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Where do Butterflies go in the Winter?

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It is October in Florida and although we look forward to the break in the extreme summer heat, Anne and I are anxiously awaiting the fall migration of birds and butterflies. Yes, I said butterflies. In northern U.S., some species of butterflies over winter in the hollows of trees. Others go into an animated suspension in the protection of a pupae.

Most people are familiar with the great Monarch migration that occurs each spring and fall. Monarchs travel great distances to winter over in the Sierra Madre Mountains of southern Mexico. Florida is also host to many species of butterflies that migrate from Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas to escape deadly fall frosts and the icy death grip of winter.

Anne and I walk along the edge of the woodlands that border Lake Tsala Apopka to see what butterflies are out on this beautiful morning. But because it is early, the woodlands are still dark and butterflies are awaiting the warm rays of the sun to stir them from their slumbers. We walk up a gentle grassy rise towards the clubhouse where the flower beds bathe in the early morning sunlight. The gardens are alive with butterflies attracted to the nectar within the blooms of the flowering shrubs.

We see one of the species of butterflies that migrates here – the long-tailed skipper. Although some individuals are here year round, the greater numbers we are seeing is probably from the influx of this species from the north. “Look at that beauty!“, I tell Anne as I raise my camera and snap a few images. I can see that Anne is not impressed. This butterfly belongs to skipper family named so because of its quick dart-like flight. Skippers look more like moths than butterflies because of their dull colors, large hairy bodies and big heads. While butterflies fold their wings when resting, moths keep their wings spread open. The skipper butterfly seems like half moth and half butterfly. It often keeps one set of wings spread out like a moth and the other set angled up like a butterfly.

To reward Anne for her patience, I lead her back to the woodlands to discover an exotic looking butterfly that prefers shaded areas. The sun is higher in the sky and the darkness of the woodlands has given way to a forest that is now shaded but sprinkled with sunlight. The woodlands are now alive with this sub tropical butterfly. Hmmm! That sounds like my next blog subject!

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