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My December Butterfly

Eye spots on the common buckeye deceive enemies.

Eye spots on the common buckeye deceive enemies.

Sleeping late in the morning is a benefit of retirement. There is no need to get up early to go to work or see the kids off to school. You get up when you get up. Anne and I climbed out of bed a little past 9:00 a.m., conducted our morning routines, had breakfast and slipped on shoes to begin our daily morning walk. This December morning is beautiful. The sun is shining, there’s not a cloud in the sub-tropical deep blue sky and the temperatures climbing into the 80s.

We always walk towards the lake front to see what birds might be visiting us for the day. And we are rewarded with the site of a little blue heron wading in the shallows picking off small fish. Two American coots, duck-like birds are dabbling for food just off shore. Double-crested cormorants are sitting on a log a hundred yards off shore, preening their feathers. A phoebe calls from atop a post of the floating dock. It wags its tail from time to time, a telltale sign that it is a phoebe.

We are so focused on the water, that we do not see what is flying just inches above the grass behind us. It isn’t until we walk along the concrete sidewalk that parallels the lake that I see it. It is elusive, but I follow it and it lands on the grass about 20 feet away. Focusing on the spot it landed, I walk slowly towards it. But my body casts a shadow where it landed and it flies up. I see that it is a butterfly, but it is too far for me to determine what species it is. It lands again; I get within ten feet of it and focus my camera on the spot the butterfly landed.  At first I could not find it, but then I pick it up in my viewfinder and discover that it is the beautiful common buckeye butterfly.

The buckeye is native to Florida and southern Canada and Central America and Mexico and the California coast, but not in the northwest U.S. It loves open sunny areas and that is exactly where Anne and I observe it. It has eight eye spots, two on each of its forewings and two on each hindwing. These prominent spots divert attention away from the insect’s body and confuse potential predators by making it seem bigger than it really is.  Although it seeks flowers of the composite family for nectar, you may see it laying eggs on members of the snapdragon family, the host plant for its caterpillars.

We are just amazed that even though it is winter, we are able to see such beauties. Coming from New York, you are not blessed to see any butterfly during the winter months. Now during our walks we will be vigilant in looking for other butterflies that may emerge in the December Florida sun.

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