It’s summer in Florida. It’s hot, and the butterflies are in full swing. Florida has a year-round butterfly season because of the usually warm weather, much to the delight of all those crazed butterfly enthusiasts living here in Southwest Florida. Some migrate in the winter like Sulfurs (yellow butterflies) and monarchs, but many stay here and flourish.
I am going to write a six-part series on the butterflies of Florida. Starting with the Monarchs — probably the most recognized butterfly in the country. Monarchs, Queens and Soldiers, all are in the Danas genius, and their larvae all feed on the same host plant (plants femalebutterflies lay their eggs on), and that is milkweed.
There are hundreds of different milkweeds, but a few that are easily found here in Florida are scarlet milkweed (Asclepias; red or yellow, they are both called scarlet), giant milkweed (Calatropis), orange milkweed (Tuberosa), white milkweed (Perennis) and balloon milkweed (Asclepias physocarpa). Milkweeds are one of the host plants that also serve as a nectar plant (plants adult butterflies feed on). They accumulate toxins from the flowers which make them distasteful to their predators throughout their adult life. One way to distinguish the queen larvae from the monarch is the queen has three sets of antenna — front,middle and rear — where the monarch only has two, one on the head and another on the rear.
All the males of the genus Danas have scent sacks in the middle of their hind wings which emit a scent used in attracting females. The monarch is mostly orange, whereas queens and soldiers are more of a brown. All have white spots bordering the outside of both fore and hind wings.
If you have never seen a monarch chrysalis, it’s something to behold it is jade green with a gold ban around the top. The chrysalis of both queen and soldiers are just the same, but some queen’schrysalis can have a pink hue to them. The chrysalises are so beautiful that many jewelers have tried to make the same as jewelry. Personally, they don’t come close to the real thing. Remember who makes these flying flowers!
So remember these guys need all the help we can give them. Plant milkweed in your garden. It also works in pots and window boxes, and I GUARANTEE they will come. The monarchs’ numbers are growing here in the south, nevertheless let’s just keep planting.
Next week, I will cover our three Heliconian butterflies the Nymphalidae Family, found in Florida in abundance: the zebra longwing (Florida’s state Butterfly), Julia and the gulf fritillary.