Eumaeus atala butterfly, at long last

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I have a new puzzle on my hands. I don’t know of any places in the neighborhood with enough coontie to support the Atala Blue butterfly (Eumaeus atala), but I’ve got one “sleeping” on my pool deck:

It’s been there all morning, from 8 a.m. when I got the right profile above, to noon, when I got the left profile, below.

From now on when we’re on our evening strolls, I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for its only known larval host plant: coontie (Zamia floridana). It’s a plant I want to have in my [...]

A second sphinx moth: Xylophanes pluto

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Last year I found an adult sphinx moth, Enyo lugubris, on our pool fence. It was the first sphinx moth I’d found on our new property, and it sure brightened up my morning.

The other evening, as I was fighting another skirmish in my never-ending war against the scale bugs on my firebush, I uncovered a moth caterpillar from a new (to me) sphinx moth species, Xylophanes pluto:

It’s one of the “hornworm” caterpillars, a name given to the larvae of the moth family Sphingidae for obvious reasons. If ever a lepidopteran larva looked like a unicorn, it [...]

New backyard lepidopteran: Enyo lugubris

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City code here in Boca requires that if you have a pool, you also have a fence to keep toddlers from toddling in. Actually, it requires two lines of defense: a fence to keep neighborhood people out of the pool, then another fence to keep residents out of the pool. This pool fence is usually a fine nylon mesh, like window screening only sturdier and much more extensive than most people’s window screens. It also serves as an amazing insect magnet. I’ve found moths, katydids, butterflies, and all kinds of other insects on it. And just the other day, this [...]

New backyard moth: Anticarsia gemmatalis

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I was cleaning the pool deck the other day and noticed a very odd moth flying around trying to get away from the concrete and glass of the built environment and back into the natural world where it would be much more at home. As you can see, it made it:

And it has a very impressive cryptic camouflage, looking for all the world like a dead leaf; the picture above shows one of the few angles where you might even begin to suspect that it’s not actually a dropped leaf. It has an intricate network of “veins” [...]

Zebra Heliconian larvae

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Back around Labor Day I wrote a couple of short pieces about the various egg-laying episodes I’ve seen on the hybrid passionvine in our back yard. This particular plant is a cross between our native Passiflora incarnata and a Mexican variety, thus explaining why our “3-lobed” native has 5-lobed leaves. The star of the September post was our state butterfly, the Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonia); in that article I showed a few pictures of the adult form and the eggs. But I wasn’t able to hit for the cycle—the life cycle, that is—meaning showing photos of egg, larva, chrysalis, and [...]

Late October

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It’s late October, and in South Florida that means it’s going to be either windy, or hot, or both. Today we’ve got a bit of both: a steady 7–8 mph east wind, with gusts up to 14 mph, and a temperature of 83°F. Mercifully, the humidity is relatively low (under 60%), so the heat index isn’t really an issue, but it sure feels hot after the traditional pre-Halloween cool spell we had last weekend. (And for some reason, the weather is never nice on Halloween day.)

When the weather’s this hot and the breeze is blowing, it gets harder and [...]

Plume moth

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Last week while I was out taking pictures of the muhly grass that’s just now beginning to flower (a sure sign of fall here in “seasonless” Florida), I ran across a flying beast that introduced me to a new lepidopteran family: the plume moths, Pterophoridae. These unusual little (and I mean little—these guys are tiny! The one I photographed has a wingspan of about 20mm [that's 3/4 inch to you and me in daily life]) guys have very cryptic body shapes to help them hide in the grasses where they thrive. Part of that camouflage consists of little bristly projections [...]

Backyard butterfly: Cassius Blue

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One great thing about working from home is that it’s relatively easy to see wonderful things on your lunch break—that is, if you’ve planted the right backyard habitat. Last week I wrote about the butterfly-attracting qualities of Heliotropium angiospermum, or Scorpion’s-Tail, which is conveniently located between my pool and the backyard fence. Back then, I was captivated by the sight of a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) butterfly resting on one of the exquisitely sculpted leaves of this showy little flower.

Today I went outside to see who else might have been visiting (before the Pearl Crescent there was the Mallow [...]

Early morning lepidoptera

Pearl crescent's underwing, showing the diagnostic "crescent."

Was out early last Sunday mowing (with a reel mower, no motors) the lawn (all volunteer plants, not watered except by the rain) and watching the boy play in the sandbox when I noticed this striking little butterfly on our good old Florida native scorpion’s-tail (Heliotropium angiospermum, which is a wonderful little plant that I need to write up soon):

The butterfly’s name is Phyciodes tharos, Pearl Crescent. Taxonomists have decided that butterflies like this belong to the family Nymphalidae, subfamily Nymphalinae. That means it’s a “true” brush-footed butterfly. What’s a “brushfoot”? That means unlike most insects, with [...]

Caught in the act!

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I wrote some months ago about a new vine I planted along our backyard fence: Passiflora suberosa, the Corkystem Passionvine. It’s a nice little vine, with nice little flowers. But it’s a small vine, and it hasn’t taken off the way I’d hoped it would. So a few weeks ago when I went to get more mulch, I picked up its big brother, the maypop vine, Passiflora incarnata. That’s the one with the three-lobed leaves and the much showier flower:

I got a 3-gallon plant, put it in the ground about two weeks ago, and it’s already attracted [...]