A recent walk at Lemon Creek Wildflower Preserve (LCWP) near Englewood, FL, in the third week of November with members of the Peace River Butterfly Society was notable for the interesting butterflies seen in addition to other animals. Thanks to Mike Weisensee for supplying six of the photos.
In the butterfly garden, cloudless sulphur butterflies were attracted to a large native winter Cassia shrub (their larval food) and to flowers of an adjacent exotic Mexican sunflower and a glory bower. To maximize scarce winter flowers it is beneficial to mix natives with non-invasive exotics which are fall and winter bloomers. Smaller sulphurs such as the barred yellow and little yellow were attracted to Spanish needles and various peas.
Tiny bluish gray butterflies were harder to notice but Mike got excellent photos of a Cassius blue and a less often seen mallow scrub hairstreak. Note that the hairstreak has two short false antennae next to an eye spot on the posterior hind wing- these are thought to trick predators such as jumping spiders into attacking the wings instead of vulnerable body parts.
The most common butterfly is the white peacock which often stops on short vegetation and holds its wings open- most likely to bask but possibly to display to other members of its species. I sometimes foolishly call this a “trash butterfly” due to it being so common, but it has a beautiful pattern and nectars on low growing weedy flowers. The white checkered skipper is somewhat similar in coloration and behavior but is much smaller.
There were several tropical milkweed plants with just a few leaves left at their tops and sure enough there were several queen caterpillars feasting on these last leaves. Note that the queen has a third pair of tentacles in comparison with the monarch. The use of these exotic milkweeds has been controversial in some quarters but without these and the exotic giant milkweed from Africa, there would be little food available for milkweed-eating butterflies in southern FL.
The huge and beautiful Mexican sunflowers also attracted large black carpenter bees, bumblebees, and a gigantic four spotted scolid wasp which was very impressive. These huge wasps parasitize buried larvae of scarab beetles perhaps including the large ox beetles. These are rarely seen so I was excited to encounter this giant wasp.
There were some spectacular dragonflies in the area- stopping to rest occasionally. The male scarlet skimmer (an exotic species that is naturalized from the Caribbean) is a bright red whereas the female is a dull brown. Another example of the “pretty male” phenomenon whereby the females choose their mates in part on traits that reflect strength and viability. A Carolina saddlebags male is brighter than the female but otherwise similar. The complex behaviors and colors of these very primitive insects is a constant source of wonder.
One of my favorite turtles, the peninsula cooter, a female, was basking in Clear Pond. These herbivores need to warm up in winter to digest their food. The female egg-shaped shell is huge (more space for eggs and more resistant to alligator attacks) in comparison with the male.
After six months away I was very impressed by how nice LCWP looks. The painful process of allowing thousands of new plants to develop and to minimize unwanted weed growth is progressing reasonably well. Animals are using the preserve in large numbers and providing visitors a marvelous viewing and educational experience.