One of the more common butterflies seen in Florida is the gulf fritillary. This is one of the longwing butterflies (Heliconiini tribe), a subgroup of the brush-footed butterfly family (Nymphalidae). Other longwings found in Florida include the state butterfly the zebra longwing and the Julia butterfly, found only in the southern part of the state.
The adult butterfly is mostly brownish-orange with black markings on the upperside. There are three white spots surrounded by black near the leading edge of the forewing from about the midpoint towards the base.
The undersides of the wings are lighter, with the hindwings and tips of the forewings covered with silvery spots. Females are larger and paler than the males.
All of the longwings utilize passionflower vines exclusively for caterpillar host plants. There are about a dozen species of Passiflora found in Florida, half of them native. One of the most common is the Purple Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata.
This gulf fritillary butterfly is nectaring on a white passionflower, a naturally occurring white form of Passiflora incarnata. The adult butterflies will feed on a variety of wildflowers, such as the tall elephantsfoot (Elephantopus elatus) in the photos above, the pollinator popular Spanish needles (Bidens alba), and many others.
The caterpillar is orange with rows of black spines. A patch of corkystem passionflower in our yard has become a little gulf fritillary nursery the past few years.
At the end of the larval stage, the caterpillar will attach the tail end somewhere, typically the stem of a passionflower vine, and begin the metamorphosis into the pupal stage forming a chrysalis.
The series of photos above shows: (1) the caterpillar just forming into the chrysalis, (2) a typical chrysalis during most of the about 11 day pupal stage and (3) about an hour before the butterfly emerged.
This video clip made from a series of photographs shows the newly emerged butterfly hanging on the exuvia (empty shell of the chrysalis) and performing the necessary unrolling and rolling of the proboscis to form the two halves together.
A gulf fritillary butterfly nectaring on Feay's Prairieclover. Note that it appears that the butterfly only has four legs. The two front legs are greatly reduced and held up against the body. They are covered with hairs, giving them the family name brush-footed butterflies, that act as sensory organs.
For more information about and photographs of gulf fritillaries, visit Wild Florida Photo.
Exploring nature can be fun and full of surprises, such as discovering one of the many varieties of mushrooms that are often found in the woods. The huge mushroom pictured at the top of this post was about a foot and a half across. and is called a Berkeley's Polypore. Virginia & I spotted it a couple of years ago along a May Prairie State Natural Area trail less than two miles from where I grew up in Manchester, Tennessee. This species is also called Stump Blossoms as they are often found at or near the base of hardwood trees.
The Mushroom in the Woods above was photographed near the trail on the lower portion of Jackrabbit Mountain in the Nantahala National Forest of North Carolina. This is possibly a Two-colored Bolete mushroom - Boletus bicolor - or more likely the similar Boletus pseudosensibilis. These are usually found from late June through October on the ground in oak woods throughout much of eastern North America.
This Goldstalk mushroom was photographed in the woods along the shore of Lake Chatuge in the Jackrabbit Mountain campground. Goldstalk mushrooms are found in eastern North America from Quebec to Florida, under oaks and other hardwoods. They are also called ornate-stalked bolete for the reticulate stem.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi that grow mostly underground. When the time is right, often after rains, the fungi send up the structure that develops and eventually releases the tiny spores that will spread and grow new fungi. These spore dispersal devices can take many forms, the more familiar being the typical 'toadstools' with gills or pores in the undersides of the caps. Another form includes puffballs like the Barometer Earthstar pictured above that release their spores when disturbed by animals or raindrops. There are other various shapes that exude odors that attract insects to spread their spores, such as in the stinkhorn family.
These aromatic mushrooms are often smelled before being seen. I have come across the Columned Stinkhorn on a number of occasions. These fungi have two to five reddish sponge-like columns growing from a white egg in the ground, the remnants of which can often be seen still attached around the base of the columns. These columns are fused at the top, forming a roof over the dark glebra, or spore mass, the source of the insect-attracting fetid odor.
Some of the smallest fungi I have come across are the Fluted Bird's Nests that I saw for the first time this year. They were growing out of the mulch in a residential yard in Lake Helen near where we evacuated during hurricane Irma. And last year as I was leaving town for the hurricane Matthew evacuation, was the first time that I ever saw a fairy ring.
A Fairy ring forms when a fungus growing underground sends up the fruiting bodies along its perimeter creating a circle of mushrooms. The particular species that I probably saw is frequently found in lawns or on golf courses, and the grass above the fungus is often a different shade than the surrounding vegetation. At least one of these common fairy rings is highly toxic and known as the vomiting mushroom.
These orange mushrooms grow in clusters on dead wood, either exposed or in the ground, appearing mostly in the fall in wooded areas east of the Rocky Mountains. The gills attach down the stem. Jack O'lantern mushrooms are reported to glow in the dark, with a faint greenish-blue light emanating from the gills beneath the cap.
On August 21, 2017 a unique opportunity occurred for a vast number of North Americans to witness a total solar eclipse. The last total solar eclipse visible in North America was in 1991 when the path of totality passed over Mexico and before that in 1979 when the path traversed the northwestern United States and central Canada. The last time a total eclipse came through the southeastern US was in 1970. I had seen a partial solar eclipse shortly after I moved to Florida, probably the annular eclipse of May 30, 1984. Earlier this year Virginia said that we should go somewhere to see totality since Florida would only witness a partial eclipse and we made plans to do so.
Once we had decided to go, I knew that I would regret it if I did not at least try and get some photographs of this infrequent celestial event. In addition to our viewing glasses I obtained some solar filters for both my longest telephoto camera lens and small telescope. After originally intending to just go to South Carolina - the closest the path of totality came to Florida - we ended up in Clarksville, Tennessee.
This image is a compilation of photographs made during the progress of the eclipse. Starting with the full sun about 25 minutes before the eclipse began, the series progresses through the increased occultation of the sun by the moon until finally reaching totality. The first image - showing the eclipse just starting with a tiny sliver missing from the sun - was taken an hour and 26 minutes before the last image which shows the corona during totality. Where we were totality lasted almost two and a half minutes, which was very nearly the maximum length of the eclipse anywhere along the path.
During totality we could see Venus, and several of my photographs showed Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo, to the left of the sun.
One of the surprises in my photographs, and something that we did not notice during the event, were the solar flares that could be seen during totality.
Yes, the temperatures did drop, from miserably hot before the eclipse started to a much cooler fairly comfortable from a bit before to a little while after totality. As the eclipse progressed the light in the sky took on an odd cast reminiscent of the yellow sky after a severe late afternoon thunderstorm, having a similar visage although not the same color.
For those that did not experience totality, the next opportunity in North America will be in April of 2024. Parts of South America will be in the path of totality during eclipses coming up in 2019 & 2020 and in December 2021 a total eclipse with be visible along some of the coast of Antarctica.
The last week of July found me on most mornings observing and photographing the many spiderling plume moths that were flying around and perching on a patch of red spiderling plants in our yard. It was a fitting coincidence that this was also National Moth Week.
I had first seen and identified one of these moths four summers ago while photographing red spiderling plants, which are also called wineflower. The odd-looking thin sprawling plants that periodically appeared in the yard around the house are Boerhavia diffusa, a fact that I learned reading a Treasure Coast Natives blog post. Red spiderling is a member of the four o'clock family (Nyctaginaceae) of plants and closely related to bougainvillea, which has similar-looking but much larger flowers.
My moth week observations of these tiny plume moths – they have a wingspan of about a half inch – included all four main life cycle stages: eggs, larvae (caterpillar), pupa and adult.
Spiderling plume moths are tiny, with a wingspan of from an half to three-quarters of an inch. In flight they look like little tufts of down floating around in the air. At rest, they exhibit the classic plume moth 'T' shape of each wing bunched together and held perpendicular to the body. The wings are deeply divided, the forewings into two lobes and the hindwings three. A fringe of threadlike scales give the appearance of the wings being feathered, hence the name 'plume'. The legs have perpendicular thorns, most apparent on the long hind legs held along each side of the abdomen when at rest.
Published observations of these and related species recorded that eggs are laid on the tips of branches near the fruit. I saw eggs in this location and also on the bottom of one leaf. The caterpillars feed mostly on the unripe fruit of spiderling, but also on many plants in the four o'clock plant family. In south Florida the larvae will feed on the leaves of the rare Okenia hypogaea known as beach peanut.
Megalorhipida leucodactylus do not build cocoons, they simply pupate attached to the host plant and leave the cast skin of the larval stage (the exuvia) attached along the stem at the base of the pupa, which is about a third of an inch long.
In Florida spiderling plume moths have multiple broods throughout the year, but are mostly seen July though January.
August 28, 2017
Sources of information about spiderling plume moths include :
The Spiderling Plume Moth Megalorphida Leucodactylus (Fabricius) (Pterophoridae) in Florida and Texas by D. L. Matthews published in the Southern Lepidopterists' News Vol. 30 No. 4 (2008)
Observations of plume moths on North Andros Island, Bahamas, and notes on new records and species previously recorded from the Bahamas (Lepidoperta: Pterophoridae) Deborah L. Matthews, Jacqueline Y. Miller, Mark J. Simon, Gary Goss published in Insecta Mundi (6-15-2012)
Recent declines in monarch butterfly migrations and problems with honey bee populations, particularly colony collapse disorder, have raised awareness about the importance of these and other pollinators. One week each June is designated National Pollinator Week, and this year it is June 19-25. National Pollinator Week was initiated and is managed by the Pollinator Partnership, which promotes events around the country. During one of these events I will be presenting a visual program of 'Wildflowers and Pollinators' at Tomoka State Park in Ormond Beach on Sat. June 17. Here are just a few of the images and subjects that will be included in that program.
Many pollinators visit wildflowers to feed on the nectar, and indirectly spread the pollen from flower to flower and assisting in the plant's reproductive cycle. Some insects actually feed on pollen, as in the case of the female Poecilognathus Bee Fly seen here in the photo above and the video below on Florida Scrub Roseling, a member of the Spiderwort family of plants that these bee imitators favor.
Green metallic bees are very common in Florida and their opalescent green bodies can often be seen on and around many wildflowers. Here one is seen flying in front of some Coreopsis flowers, which are the official Florida state wildflower.
Monarch butterflies make a remarkable multi-generational migration from much of the United States and southern Canada to Mexico and back. Some of these migrants pass through Florida, and some of those stay, particularly in South Florida to breed year-round. Monarchs require native milkweeds as host plants for the larval stage caterpillars, but the adults feed on the nectar of many wildlfowers. Above a monarch butterfly is seen on asters and below on another favorite of many pollinators, spotted beebalm, or horsemint.
The palamedes swallowtail is another butterfly with some interesting relationships. The palamedes is a primary pollinator of the Pine Lily, also known as Catesby's Lily. The primary host plants of this butterfly are red bay and swamp bay, trees that are currently threatened by Laurel wilt, a deadly disease spread by the invasive redbay ambrosia beetle. There is concern that the massive bay die-offs as a result of Laurel Wilt will affect the palamedes butterfly populations, and in turn, pine lily reproduction.
Thistle is another wildflower that is popular with many insects that serve as pollinators, as can be seen in these photographs. Above a palamedes swallowtail is seen on thistle with various other insects. Below a female black swallowtail butterfly feeds on purple thistle flowers with a gulf fritillary butterfly in the background and a pollen-laden blue metallic bee approaching.
Another wildflower visited by many pollinators, and an excellent landscaping choice for people wanting to attract this kind of wildlife, is Bidens alba, commonly called beggarticks or Spanish needles. Here we see a couple of the Florida state butterflies – Zebra longwings – with a Bidens alba flower.
For the past several years Virginia and I have had marsh rabbits living in our 'front yard'. I was surprised to learn that they will inhabit the beach dunes since I had usually seen them in proximity to the intercoastal waterway.
Marsh rabbits can be found near freshwater marshes and estuarine areas throughout much of Florida with the range extending from the panhandle up the coastal plain into Virginia. Primarily nocturnal, they can often be seen foraging in the morning or early evening. The tails are smaller than cottontails and dark on the bottom. Also the ears are shorter and rounder on marsh rabbits.
Just the other day I discovered that they apparently like seaside goldenrod sprouts, as one of the patches in the yard was neatly trimmed at about two inches tall. A few days after hurricane Matthew passed by, we were pleased to see bunny tracks on the now flattened dune area proving that the marsh rabbits had survived the storm surge that had inundated the area were they are usually seen.
Spring has brought a resurgence on the dunes, which through the winter mostly only had vegetation that I planted since the hurricane. The searocket has sprouted in dense patches from seeds buried in the sand or caught in the storm wrack that I had placed on the beach to catch the blowing sand in an attempt at beach rebuilding. The seaweed in the wrack also makes an excellent fertilizer for the searocket, a plant uniquely adapted to living in a dynamic environment.
The name refers to the rocket-shaped fruits on this plant of beaches and dunes with various species found throughout the world. These rockets are two staged, each containing at least one seed. The lower stage remains on the plant to repopulate the same area, while the upper stage breaks off to be dispersed, often by water, to seed new areas. The name might also refer to this being a coastal member of the mustard family - Brassicaceae - that includes arugula or roquette.
Searocket has small four-petaled white to lavender flowers. The plants are typically sprawling, with fleshy leaves that may be wavy edged or deeply lobed. There are two species in Florida, Cakile lanceolata occurring on both coasts, and Cakile edentula subspecies harperi on the east coast and up to the outer banks of North Carolina.
Another plant of beach dunes and coastal thickets is Sea Rosemary, Heliotropium gnaphalodes. It is also known as Sea Lavender, a name it shares with a completely different plant, Limonium carolinianum of brackish marshes, salt flats, mangrove swamps and coastal strands.
I purchased this sea rosemary at a native plant sale a week after hurricane Matthew and it is growing nicely.
It is a Florida endangered plant that naturally occurs just south of Volusia County, from Brevard County down into the keys. The genus name refers to the form of the flowers that grow in an arc and appear to be arching towards the sun, like its relatives including scorpionstail.
One of the many cool things about living in Florida is experiencing Sandhill cranes. We have two distinct populations of these majestic birds in the Sunshine State. About five thousand Florida sandhill cranes live here year-round and are considered a separate subspecies from the more numerous greater sandhill cranes that only winter here. The migratory cranes breed in the Great Lakes region of North America and arrive in large flocks during November and December. This increases the crane population of the state about six-fold until they depart, typically March and April.
Sometimes huge numbers of cranes gather at Paynes Prairie, or other prairies near Gainesville. I keep missing this event despite numerous visits to likely spots during different winters. This January I was at Sweetwater Wetlands Park next to Paynes Prairie thrilled at all of the limpkins and black-bellied whistling-ducks I was seeing. After spending the morning photographing those and many other birds, I stopped by Paynes Prairie State Park to drop off some ice where my wife was having a women's camping weekend with friends. After that, I was almost home from the over 2 hour drive when Virginia texted that they were on LaChua Trail and there were hundreds of sandhill cranes on the prairie! I might have missed that, but the next month I was back at Sweetwater Wetlands Park co-leading a Birds of a Feather Fest field trip with Greg Miller of The Big Year, where we saw hundreds of sandhill cranes flying overhead.
The Florida sandhill cranes are mostly seen in pairs or small groups, sometimes along the side of the road or even strolling through neighborhoods. They are monogamous, breeding in late winter and spring and usually laying two eggs on a mat of vegetation in shallow water.
For many years, usually first thing in the morning while camping, I would often have a "what on earth is that?" moment when I heard sandhill cranes honking in the distance. I would take a few moments to figure out what I was hearing, and now most of the time immediately realize the source of the distinctive call.
Cranes go back 2-1/2 million years with the oldest known crane fossils discovered in a shell pit near Sarasota, Florida. Up until recently sandhill cranes were considered the same genus as whooping cranes, but in 2016 Grus canadensis was moved to the genus Antigone joining species from Asia and Australia. Antigone is the name of Oedipus's daughter/half-sister in Greek mythology.
Clasping Warea is a rare Florida endemic wildflower that occurs only in central Florida. The ideal habitat for this endangered plant is longleaf pine sandhill.
Sandhill is a high and dry pine forest with an open savanna-like understory that is typically made up mostly of wiregrass with scatterings of herbaceous wildflowers. Longleaf pines predominate, often augmented with turkey oaks, both having root systems that allow them to obtain the necessary water in this habitat. The soil is deep sand and the savanna is maintained with frequent small wildfires, naturally ignited by lightning. This periodic clearing of the undergrowth allows the wildflowers to grow without competition from shrubby plants that are not adapted to the frequent fires. Fire is also a critical component in the reproductive cycle of both wiregrass and longleaf pines. Sandhill was part of the great longleaf pine forest of the southeastern coastal plain that once extended from Virginia into Texas.
Warea amplexifolia is a member of the pinelandcress genus which was named for Nathaniel A. Ware (1789-1853), a teacher, lawyer and land speculator who traveled extensively and lived in various parts of the United States. Ware was a member of the American Philosophical Society, pursuing the natural sciences, including botany and geology, and collecting many plants during his travels. He apparently saw and described or collected a specimen of clasping warea in 'east Florida' in the early 1800s.
Of the four Warea species in Florida, W. amplexifolia is the only one with heart-shaped leaves in which the base surrounds (clasps) the stem. Clasping warea blooms form in terminal crowded clusters, maturing from the bottom up and somewhat globular shaped. The individual flowers are about a half-inch wide with four paddle-shaped whitish to rose-purple petals and six long stamens. The fruit is a long thin pod called a silique that is about three inches long, and hangs down in a curving arc. Warea is in the mustard family (Brassicaeae).
Clasping Warea is one of the subjects in the Only in Florida exhibit that has been showing at the Lyonia Gallery in Deltona. That exhibit ends February 1, 2017 with the next showing at the Kimbell Center Art Gallery at Jonathan Dickinson State Park Feb. 13 through March 4. There will also be three presentations of the Only in Florida program in the central Florida area in January and at the Kimbell Center in February. For exhibit and presentation schedules see www.wildflphoto.com/events.html.
Along with pines, oaks and tupelo one of the typically 'Florida' trees is the cypress. Florida has two species, the bald cypress and the pond cypress.
Pond cypress is limited to the Southeastern coastal plain from Louisiana to Virginia, plus Delaware. Bald cypress has a wider range, found west into Texas and Oklahoma and north into Illinois through New York state. Pond cypress is also found in fewer habitats, mostly flatwoods ponds and along the edges of lakes, while bald cypress is frequently found in swamps, floodplains and along streams. Pond cypress - Taxodium ascendens - has small leaves that are held tight against the branchlets that usually grow upward. Bald cypress - Taxodium distichum - leaves are spreading with two opposite rows of needle-like leaflets.
When certain conditions exist, pond cypress sometimes can grow very old but remain fairly small for its age. There are two main areas that are known for their large strands of dwarf cypress. One is in the Picayune Strand State Forest in southwest Florida. Another is located in the Florida panhandle in Tate's Hell State Forest.
I almost made it to see the dwarf cypress in Picayune Strand several years ago when I was in the area to attend a Florida Native Plant Society conference, but was driven off the trail by thunderstorms and did not have a chance to go back while I was there.
This spring, after severe weather curtailed what was supposed to be a long camping weekend at Three Rivers State Park, Virginia & I stopped by and checked out the dwarf cypress strand in Tate's Hell.
At this time, the spring greening was just getting started and the strand was full of water from the recent heavy rains, as can barely be seen in the image above. Most of these cypress trees are less than fifteen feet tall, even though they may be hundreds of years old. These dwarf cypress are often called 'hatrack cypress', a term that seems fitting when looking at the tree in the image below.
I was back in the area Memorial Day weekend and headed out to Tate's Hell on a whitetop pitcherplant search (see the previous blog post 'Pitcherplants in May') when I again stopped by the dwarf cypress strand. The cypress were greener and the water was lower, and I also found some interesting scenes along the edge of the strand where American white waterlilies were growing in the roadside ditches.
Rodman Reservoir was created by damming a section of the Ocklawaha River as part of the abandoned cross-Florida barge canal project. Even though the canal project was cancelled before completion, and the path of the canal is now the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, this reservoir remains. About every three years, the water level is lowered primarily to control invasive aquatic vegetation. These drawdowns allow muck from decaying vegetation a chance to consolidate and oxidize, reducing the thickness of the muck and providing a firmer lake bottom, more suitable for fish and wildlife.
This winter while the lake level was down I kayaked on two different days, once near the dam, and the second paddle near Eureka. It was a cool, gray January morning when I arrived at the temporary Kenwood Landing boat ramp. Several dozen vehicles with trailers filled about half of the parking area and the ramp was busy with more arrivals so I parked at the far end and launched from the bank. As I paddled down the canal between the now exposed spoil banks, tree swallows swooped and soared around me and I soon saw the first bald eagle of the day. I know there were at least two eagles, but I am not sure if there were more or I just kept seeing those same birds all day.
On the north side of the canal was shallow water with many slanting tree trunks where the crusher was used to clear the forest in preparation for the reservoir. With the water lowered, these provided many perches for the eagles, osprey, gulls, cormorants and herons.
On the south side of the canal mostly tall thin stumps are exposed that apparently were trees still standing when the area was originally flooded. Slowly gliding my kayak between these tall trunks imparted a feeling of crossing the river Styx. A number of massive cypress stumps were also present.
A sign marks the point where the historic Ocklawaha River channel diverges from the canal (photo at beginning of this post). The channel is a clear path that winds through the forest of stumps outlining where the original riverbanks were. I paddled up the original river imagining what it might have been like when these trees were alive and provided a canopy of green. Was it like the river below the dam to the St. Johns, or more like the still-natural upstream section of river from the Silver River to Eureka?
I continued my paddle looking for some of the springs that are covered by the reservoir most of the time but exposed during the drawdowns. The only one that was noticeable was the small flow of Sims Spring. I continued until the original river channel again joined the canal, then turned around and headed back to the boat ramp. My search for springs will continue on another day.
By contrast it was a beautiful, sunny day in early March when I launched my kayak from the ramp near the 316 bridge at Eureka. A group of teens in an 'Outward Bound' type expedition paddled up in canoes as I was putting my boat in the water. They were near the end of a week-long canoe-camping trip on the Ocklawaha. As I passed the Ocklawaha Canoe Outpost, more kayakers were starting their Sunday afternoon paddles. I would see all these people again before the day was over.
To answer a common question I get when out in a kayak or canoe, yes I did see alligators. Several were lazily sunning themselves on the banks as I headed downstream. Several times a river otter appeared ahead of me, but I was unable to get any photos other than its back barely breaking the surface. While I was stopped to take pictures, one of the kayakers I had passed previously caught up with me. As we paddled along together for a while I mentioned that I was looking for Cannon Springs, and he told me what to look for to know where to turn. This kayaker turned out to be Mark Chiappini, owner of the famous general store & gas station in Melrose.
I did find Cannon Springs, and managed to make some photographs before the crowds arrived. By the time I left, everyone that I had seen on the river that day was there to see the spring before the lake covers it up again. In one of the photographs the light on the clear water of the spring made for an impressionist, sort of pointillist style, image, as can be seen below.
Unlike everyone else there who were continuing downstream, either for another night camping or to take out at Orange Springs where they had shuttled their vehicles earlier, I headed back upstream towards Eureka. This was a strenuous paddle as the current was noticeable, possibly the flow from Moss Bluff Dam had been increased to start refilling Rodman Reservoir as the drawdown was coming to an end. I did pause to photograph a limpkin wading through the spatterdock in the river.
My last stop was at the eerily out of place Eureka Lock. Rising up out of a side pool of the river and the woods. Constructed for passage from the Rodman pool to the Eureka pool, then abandoned in place when the project was cancelled. Fortunately the Eureka pool was never created, as that would have destroyed what is probably the most scenic and wild section of the Ocklawaha River, from the Silver River to Eureka.