Butterflies don’t mind the heat and humidity of summer. Golden Banded-Skippers, rare butterflies that are a specialty of Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park, seek shelter under leaves when it rains and take mid-day siestas under them when it doesn’t. They are found in wooded areas, often seen sipping nectar from large, yellow blooms such as bear’s foot. Red-spotted Purples are found in wooded areas too, but seldom visit flowers. They often are seen on bare ground, especially after rains. They are excellent mimics of Pipevine Swallowtails (see the spring article); in some ways better mimics than other swallowtails. Red-spotted Purples, despite looking very different, are close relatives of, which mimic Monarchs. Viceroy caterpillars eat willow leaves, so this butterfly is most common in wet areas such as Black Swamp Nature Preserve. Both species also can be found at the Ochlockonee River Wildlife Management Area.
Other butterflies prefer sunnier, more open habitats. The white, spherical blooms of buttonbush, at ponds in the Munson Hills area of the Apalachicola National Forest just south of Tallahassee, attract many butterflies in early summer. Zebra Swallowtails are conspicuous visitors. Their caterpillars eat the leaves and flowers of pawpaws growing the area’s sandy soil. Southern Cloudywings also visit buttonbush, as do its two close relatives, Northern Cloudywing and Confused Cloudywing. The latter is intermediate in appearance between Northerns and Southerns and can be confused with either of them, hence the name.
Bright orange Fiery Skippers, with dark dots on the underside of their hindwings, are seen at all of the sites mentioned so far. In fact these small butterflies can be found in almost any grassy place with wildflowers throughout the area are found in a wide variety of open habitats too. They are particularly common at Munson Hills and the Blue Springs Wildlife Management Area. They are most likely to be seen just flying by, but do sometimes stop at flowers. In summer, the undersides of their hindwings are white and appear to be sprinkled with pepper. However, from fall to early spring the background color of the hindwings is rusty brown to match the hues of dead leaves. Gray Hairstreaks also are common in many open sunny places, including gardens, usually on a plant’s highest bloom. They are common at Blue Springs WMA in summer, and often are seen atop southern rattlesnake master. Unlike most hairstreaks, Gray’s open their wings to bask fairly often.
Some good butterfly sites in the region experience an early- to mid-summer slump. Many species have two broods per year, the first in spring and the second in late summer or fall, with a gap in between. The adults of those species often aren’t around in June or July. Things start to pick up again in August. The sites mentioned above, however, all have good numbers of butterflies throughout the summer months. For some of them summer is the best time!
Text by David Harder, photographs by Brian Lloyd, both members of the Hairstreak Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association.