The Bright and Colorful Atala Butterflies of Southwest Florida

Atala butterflies are a sight to behold. With their bright orange abdomens and ebony wings accented with iridescent blue, they are sure to catch the attention of even the most hurried passerby. These beautiful creatures migrate south to warmer climates in winter and then move north again in late spring, where food is more plentiful. They are famous for their color pattern and migration. Monarchs can be found anywhere there is milkweed, which is the only source of food their caterpillars eat.

They prefer open, sunny habitats, but many places adapt to their needs, including forest edges, fields, meadows and gardens. Common horse chestnut trees also thrive in open spaces such as pastures, old fields, and roadsides in Florida. Although they're hard to get close to and they're wary of predators, they fly close to the ground and often land long enough for you to take a picture. In the South of the U. S., Atala butterflies can live in the southern climate all year round and reproduce continuously.

Little Wood satyrs can be found in shady woodland areas, clearings, and nearby scrub areas. They prefer to stay close to the ground and even use leaf litter as a perch to rest, instead of branches or tall grass like other species. Grey Hairstreak butterflies can be seen in open areas such as roadsides, unused grasslands, and rural meadows. Their caterpillars use many plants as hosts, so they are common in many different habitats.

The adults are active for about four weeks in early summer and mate only once during this active season. The eggs survive through summer, fall, and winter and develop into caterpillars in spring. Orange Sulfurs love flower nectar and often stop to drink on plants in the garden. They have a long active season and are abundant from late spring to early fall. White cabbages can be seen in summer when they are most active and reproductive.

Their caterpillars, sometimes called cabbage worms, are a pest because they often take over and eat cabbage, kale, nasturtium, and other brassica plants. The easiest way to recognize an orange sulfur is by its flight pattern. They have an erratic and abrupt flight style and are usually kept close to the ground. Look for Little Sulphurs in disturbed open areas such as roadsides, vacant lots, and hiking trails. They are also known as Little Yellows because of their small size and bright yellow wings. Males actively seek out females when they are ready to mate.

Once the female mates, she places her eggs at the bottom of the host plant. After hatching, the caterpillars feed on groups of host plants in the Aristolochia family such as Virginia Snakeroot and Dutchman's pipe. Fewer boaters prefer areas with high grass such as swamps, slow streams, ditches, fields, and hillsides. Least Skippers lay their eggs in blades of grass and newborn larvae curl up in them to protect themselves. The male Least Skippers are very active from the moment they emerge; they spend their entire lives patrolling the grass in search of a female to mate with.

However, female Least Skippers don't always accept the first male who wants to mate; sometimes they reject him by dropping his wings and placing them under his body. Silver-spotted captains have a long tongue that they use to feed on everything from mud, flowers, and sometimes even animal feces. Because of their appetite they prefer to be near forest edges where nectar is abundant. Males of this species settle on tree branches or on elevated vegetation until they see a female; then an abrupt flight begins to investigate and attract the female. After mating, the female lays her eggs in a host plant; they are easily recognizable and highly appreciated by butterfly enthusiasts due to their distinctive color pattern and long tails. Males are easier to spot because they often perch on hillsides and hilltops patiently waiting for a female. The best plants to attract these vibrant butterflies are passion vines and Lantana plants.

Long-tailed captains often inhabit forests, roadsides, disturbed fields, and suburban gardens; they like areas with moderate foliage and full sun. Although American snout butterflies migrate north every year they are generally rare in most of their habitat due to their excellent camouflage. Painted Lady butterflies can be found in Florida in open areas that are quiet and peaceful such as roadsides, pastures, and gardens. The variegated Fritillary's chrysalis is one of the most beautiful of all Florida butterflies; despite their similar appearance their caterpillars look noticeably different.

Alexander Renaud
Alexander Renaud

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