Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beautiful Buckeye

Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia

There is a gentle flutter against the glass. On this cool morning, each of a handful of butterflies begins its life upon wings and waits to fly in the first warming rays of the sun.
They’re my beautiful Buckeyes—found as caterpillars just several days before, as I walked the mowed path ringing a summer field filled with riotous wildflowers.
Absorbed in a torrent of insect song brought on by that steamy morning, I had walked into their midst, barely noticing their wanderings below on a patch of path 6 feet wide and stretching 15 feet down the trail. Their colorful but dark, softly-spined wormy bodies fed furiously at my feet on the short stems of plantain interspersed with cut grass.

Common Buckeye caterpillar on plantain

Tiptoeing between them and picking up one after another, I soon had a handful of brilliant wriggling worms reluctant to remain in my cupped hands while I hurriedly headed for home. Basically a solitary caterpillar, this spot of lawn had apparently been chosen again and again by an egg-laying adult, as she flitted from one food plant to the next—a single green egg left each time. And scattered densely along my daily walkway, I was sure this caterpillar nursery would meet with an unfortunate end.

Common Buckeye caterpillar on Ruellia

Safely tucked into my glass tank enclosure and stuffed with fresh sprigs of Ruellia and assorted plantains, days later 31 cryptic chrysalides hung from silken tethers around its lid.


Not yet warmed enough to take to the air, each turns, open-winged to sit in a spot of sunshine, then lifts from my finger and floats across the field.


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21 comments:

Mary said...

Beautiful Buckeye. One of my favorites this time of year. Pretty photos on your fingertip!

Catbird said...

Lovely piece, Nina. I had a buckeye today, which posed and flitted as I tried to capture its image on my iPhone. It's gorgeously marked butterfly, one of my favorites.

MojoMan said...

Beautiful post. Beautiful photos.

Does the buckeye's range extend to New England? Looking at your photo, I might have thought that caterpillar was a gypsy moth.

Randy Emmitt said...

Nina,

Been seeing lots of Buckeyes lately. Usually I only see cats on Gerardia. Meg just yesterday took 19 Black Swallowtails cats to school for her second grade class. Today she has 20 cats an egg hatched that they did not see. Really enjoyed your posting!

Heather said...

Wow, I enjoyed these pictures and went back to your post with the swallow tail. I haven't seen those butterflies here in Southern Alberta, but I'm going to run out and check out my fennel for caterpillars, just in case!

deejbrown said...

I love that you rescued those little slips of life. You are a sensitive photographer and respected Buckeye rescuer! Thank you!

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Mojoman--Range maps show it present in New England, except for northern NY, VT, NH &ME. I'd expect you might find it!
Mary--I've only seen a fleeting few--until now. My fields must have the right stuff!
Randy--I never knew to ID the cats before. In fact, when I found so many and in such density, my first though was something undesirable...like tent cats or Datana sp. that I've run across before--colonial caterpillars that denude your trees!
Catbird--I find they like me best when I'm thoroughly hot & sweaty...riding around on my shoulders while I walk the fields.
Heather--always good to check..just in case. You'd be surprised what you find!

Robin said...

Very lovely. Butterfly and the shots!

Adrienne in Ohio said...

Beautifully stated, Nina. (as always!)

Lisa at Greenbow said...

This is one of the reasons why I don't have a "lawn". I can show certain people this post and maybe they won't worry about all my "weeds".

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Lisa--My first concern in finding them here was, "Oh no, we have to be sure not to mow the trails until this brood is hatched." The ground was covered with them and they all would have been lost.
The Butterfly.org website states "Habitat: Open, sunny areas with low vegetation and some bare ground." Which probably suggests they chose the path because it had been cut earlier.
I'm always thrilled when I see the advantage to not having just grass!
Their food plants make up most of our "lawn"!
Deej--I received a nice reward for this rescue, too. Unlike some larger butterflies that take off and fly away, these seem to stay close and flutter around in the yard. I'm guessing that most of those I see were released from my tank.
Adrienne & Robin--Glad you like the beautiful Buckeye!

Marie said...

Nice shots, Nina. We don't have the buckeye here in SE Michigan so this is a nice treat. I have been watching some monarch caterpillars on milkweed, patiently waiting....

I have five acres that the previous owner mowed but through which I only cut paths. After four years I am finally starting to see a number of native plants return, and this year was a banner year for milkweed. I would do well to find out what other butterfly species require and get some of those plants in. Thanks for a lovely post.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Marie--You bring up an important point. As much as we love to see the adults pass through our yards and plan gardens full of nectaring sources to attract them, unless we include the food plants of the caterpillars, we miss the long-term relationships!
Many native plants food sources are overlooked in favor of prettier, showier blooms.
These barely noticed plantains or vining milkweed are the perfect example of food sources many strip from their yards.
I, like you, am trying to restore as much area as I can to the native flora. It's an exercise in patience.
Keep at it!

Scott said...

Lovely post, here in Central Ohio the buckeye's have been plentiful this year but I yet to find a caterpillar.

Appalachian Lady said...

Hi Nina,
Your post reminds me that I should not cut my grass too low so that the caterpillars can eat the plantain. I bought one of those neutron mowers--inspired by your purchase a few years ago. I love it!

sciencedude288 said...

Do the butterflies have any connection to the tree?

The Early Birder said...

Whow..what a beautiful flutter. I'm delighted you rescued some from an untimely end. FAB.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

As far as I know, ScienceGuy, the Buckeye butterfly and Buckeye tree are not connected to each other in any way more than name. They're both named for their resemblance to deer's eyes--the tree, because the nuts look like deep brown eyeballs; the butterfly, because of its prominent eye spots.
AppalachianLady--Glad you like your mower. My family has since purchased 2 more Neutons...maybe I should work on commission?

KaHolly said...

Nina, again your gift of expression is delightful, and Little Sister agrees! I am in Maine visiting with her and sharing my blogland adventures. The Buckeye butterflies are so beautiful, they don't even look real! What fun to save and hatch them!~karen

Julie Zickefoose said...

Achingly beautiful. I never knew. I am going to look for those leetle worms on plantain now. What a gift you have given me and the world!

Tuga7 said...

Also fantastic work, love the great colors, and the butterfly design.