"WHEN YOU SEE A BUTTERFLY, YOU WITNESS A SUCCESS STORY”
By Cathy Beals, Member of the Friends of MacArthur State Park
My obsession with butterflies began in Palm Beach Gardens when I planted Milkweed in December, 2001. In 2003 I became a Master Gardener, which required annual volunteer hours to maintain that status. Around that time, I also joined a local chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and, because I wanted to provide volunteer hours in a butterfly garden, I began routine volunteer maintenance at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in the Fall of 2004.
Between home gardening and volunteer maintenance, I found it amazingly simple to plant Milkweed in the back yard and attract butterflies, followed by caterpillars. Thus, the cycle of observing the butterfly place an egg (on a specific host plant, followed by caterpillars that eat their way through five growth spurts and sheds (instars), thru metamorphosis (the chrysalis), and that inexplicable transformation into what I now call the "winged wonder."
I have subsequently managed to photograph life cycles of Southern Florida butterflies, including the Zebra Heliconian, Julia, Gulf Fritillary (all 3 with passiflora vine hosts), the Giant Swallowtail on Wild Lime, the Orange-Barred Sulphur, Atalas, and (most recently) the Great Southern White. All of these life cycles have been primarily from having the food source (host plants) in my yard, with some additional photos taken at local natural areas including MacArthur.
Immediately after my Monarch mania, I wanted to entice the Zebra Swallowtail to my yard. I planted Asimina (pawpaw) in my yard and followed planting instructions carefully at least three different times. All of those efforts failed. These butterflies do thrive in some Palm Beach County natural areas where a specific Asimina sp. thrives, but I have never seen one in or near my yard, nor at MacArthur.
And so, my visits to Silver Springs, (where at least three different species of Pawpaws thrive in abundance) have provided me the best opportunity to photograph this desirable beauty. Of course, my quest is made more difficult, because the host plant will not grow in my yard. My visits occur at different times of the year, when different plants bloom and fade in changing seasons and settings. It appears that the Spring and early summer Zebras are fast-moving, seldom slowing down to nectar, while the late summer, early Fall broods appear to slow down, sometimes enough to get a better photograph.
Aside from the four stages of the life cycle, other considerations like seasons of the year and maintenance of natural areas determine what visitors see and when they see it. Of even greater importance is the difference between the host plant (food source) for butterfly caterpillars and nectar plants, for butterflies only. The closeups on purple were taken on the Swamp trail, in the Fall of the year when those delightful plants were in bloom. The Zebra and Tiger Swallowtails were visiting yellow Squarehead flowers this Spring. Zebras become plentiful when Pawpaw plants make a comeback in the Spring, and often remain throughout summer and Fall. The others are also seasonal, when temperatures and seasonal food & nectar sources are available.Different butterflies use specific host plants, where the adult butterfly places her eggs. Within these four examples, the Zebra Swallowtail uses only Pawpaw (Asimina spp), and there are several different species of plants, some favored more than others. Palamedes and Tigers use trees for feeding their caterpillars: Tigers prefer Sweet bay Magnolia and Wild Black Cherry. Palamedes prefer specific "Bays" (Persea) including the Red bay. The Pipevine Swallowtail dares to be different and uses the Aristolochia vine for its host.