Dateline: April 25, 2014*
I started a blog series in January 2013 that I call “Central Florida Critter of the Day”. I publish a photo highlighting the fauna of Florida, be it insect, spider, bird, mammal, reptile…you get the idea. Some form of living creature that I find hanging around in or near my beautiful wildlife garden.
I try to provide a little information about these creatures, sometimes what they eat, sometimes what eats them and their benefit to the garden. I always try to include an appropriate follow-up link to find further information.
This week was no different, so the other day I published a photo of the egg of the Little Yellow Butterfly. That’s the common name for Pyrisitia lisa. Appropriate, eh?
On Facebook, someone left the comment “Goodness, how did you see that egg?” Truth is I have old eyes and if it were not for the fact that I was chasing the adult butterfly around to get a photo, I never would have found it on my own. How did I see it? Hmm, did I EVEN see it?
Fact is, I pretty much leaned down with the ol’ point and shoot camera and snapped a photo of the location where I saw the butterfly maneuver her ovipositor toward the host plant. An ovipositor is an organ at the end of the female butterfly’s abdomen through which she deposits her eggs. Mom butterflies lay their eggs on or close to the plants that the young will eat. Known as larval hosts, it is handy to know what plant species provide food for butterfly larvae in your area.
Some eggs are miniscule and the only way I am ever going to see them or the caterpillars is to watch where mom drops the eggs. This Little Yellow chose the larval host Sensitive Pea (Chamaecrista nictitans), a lovely plant native to Florida. This particular species of butterflies use both members of the pea family that grace my property. The other plant is Partridge pea (C. fasciculata). Some of you may know these as the genus Cassia, a synonym.
Fast forward a day or two, I was getting ready to run some errands and as I was approaching the car, I noticed a Great Southern White (Ascia monuste) dancing around some of the wildflowers. I knew there was the larval host among those wildflowers. At my place, this butterfly uses Virginia Pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum) as a preferred host.
Since I don’t have a phone with a camera, I made a mental note of the location and jumped in the car. Later on, after I returned and the groceries were put away, I headed out to the general area where I saw the butterfly and crouched down to nose around some of the plants. I was rewarded by finding a few eggs. Then I noticed some minute caterpillars on the plant as well.
I have found the eggs before by watching mom lay them, but I never was able to find the caterpillars. Now I know why. OMG, are they SMALL.
So I share the photos of my adventure to give you an idea of what you will be looking for if you are inclined to hunt for butterfly eggs. It’s a lot harder than an Easter Egg hunt.
Do you kill or pull unsightly “weeds”? Since I was a little girl there are a lot less butterflies fluttering around. Oddly, around the 1960s it became fashionable to have the perfect manicured lawn, and people used chemicals and muscle to removed “unsightly” things that peeked up through the carpet of green. It would seem there is a correlation between these two events. As we change and reshape Mom Nature’s habitat, the native fauna is suffering and even disappearing.
Now you know where the butterflies have gone. Many have disappeared because people don’t realize that by removing certain plants they deem unnecessary, they are, in fact, throwing away their butterflies. Don’t be one of those people.
Instead, learn to appreciate and encourage these larval hosts. Get out your magnifying glass and hunt around. Or do what I do…point, shoot and head to the computer to zoom in on the fascinating little bits of life in your beautiful wildlife garden.
*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 25, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.