Naturalist Fact: White Peacock

White Peacock butterfly

White Peacock butterfly

The White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae) is a tropical butterfly that can be spotted in southern Florida and southern Texas year-round and along the Georgia and South Carolina coast as a stray. However, we have been spotting several on Little St. Simons Island this fall.

This butterfly prefers open habitats like roadsides, gardens and fields. On Little St. Simons, we have been spotting them along Beach Road, near the gazebo, and in the inter-dune meadows. The adults will nectar on many of the flowers in fall bloom, and lay their eggs on Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) and water hyssop (Bacopa monieri).

White Peacock caterpillar

White Peacock caterpillar

When butterflies lay eggs in late summer or fall, sometimes the eggs will overwinter on the plant, and hatch in the spring with the new foliage growth. Since butterfly eggs usually only take 3-10 days to hatch, eggs laid here in October probably have time to hatch and feed before temperatures drop too low. Another adaptation for fall caterpillars is to form a chrysalis, but not emerge until spring.

The White Peacock has a wingspan of about two to three inches, and can be recognized by silvery white wings with an orange-brown border. Each forewing has a single round black spot, in addition to two black round spots on each hind wing.

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Naturalist Fact: Palamedes Swallowtail

Image courtesy of duke.edu

The Palamedes Swallowtail belongs to the Swallowtail butterfly family (Papilionadae) of which several members are common in the Southeast. The Palamedes Swallowtail is restricted to the Atlantic Coastal Plain, and adults can be found nectaring in suburban gardens, along roadsides, and in moist wooded areas.

It is one of the larger butterflies in the area with a wingspan of 3.5 to 5.5 inches. Its black wings are decorated with a yellow band running across the wing and yellow spots along the margin of the wing. It also has two blue hindwing eyespots ringed with black and a splash of orange, which distinguishes it from the similar Black Swallowtail.

Unlike most other swallowtails, the Palamedes Swallowtail is restricted to a single host plant—the Red Bay tree (Persea borbonia). The female is known to lay eggs only on this tree, usually a single egg is laid upon a new-growth leaf.

Unfortunately, the Red Bay populations along the South Carolina coast, Georgia coast, and into Florida are in serious decline due to an invasive ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus) that is believed to have been introduced via the port at Savannah in 2002.

For more info on the Red Bay and the red bay ambrosia beetle, stay tuned for the next Naturalist Fact of the Week!

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