Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Buckeye Butterflies

Butterflies in general are still scarce at Blue Jay Barrens, but one species, the Buckeye, is here in record numbers.  Buckeyes are an immigrant species that overwinters in the southern United States and expands its range northward each summer.  They are attractive butterflies, but immigrant species are not addressed in my Blue Jay Barrens Management Plan.  I manage for a diverse group of resident species and trust that success in that area will also provide habitat for many immigrant and migratory species.

Special management isn’t really a requirement for Buckeyes.  Adults like to rest on bare ground and the larvae utilize common weedy plants.  This is a butterfly that can be successful just about anywhere.  It will utilize flowers for nectar, but it is more commonly found at mud puddles or drinking the sap from a wounded tree.

I’ve been scaring up Buckeyes every time I walk through the fields.  For such colorful creatures, they are certainly drab on the wing.  I would describe a flying Buckeye as being brown with little flashes of white.

If you find a Buckeye sitting on vegetation, it’s most likely going to be a plant close to the ground.  A startled Buckeye launches itself out of the grass like a game bird.  It’s quick to take off, but it usually doesn’t go very far.

The preferred resting place of a Buckeye butterfly is on bare ground.  That’s something the barrens have in abundance.

Buckeye butterflies are typically unmoving while at rest.  Arrival of a second Buckeye causes the wings of the first to begin opening and closing.

The battered individual in the lower right has just flown in.  The butterfly in the upper left is responding by pumping its wings and moving toward the interloper.

All of this action is related to mating.  Males claim territories to which they try to attract females.   They will drive away all rival males.  All their energy goes into producing another generation of Buckeyes.  Being intolerant of cold weather, neither these butterflies nor their offspring will survive the winter.  They represent the portion of the population that is sacrificed on the off chance that they can successfully colonize new areas.  When climatic conditions change, species like these are the first to claim a foothold.  One day the Buckeye may be on the Blue Jay Barrens list of resident species.


  1. This year I wrote a six part series about the Desert Theme ( Ökenliv 2012 )at the Gothenburg Botanical Gardens.

    I was trying to get this one shot of a butterfly on a flower which looked almost identical to the wingspread of the one you are referencing. Mine however had pitch black outer wing colouring, with only the pattern on the inside. It took me an hour wait before he would open his wings and pose for me. And that was only after the sun shone from behind the parting cloud cover.

    Beautiful pics Steve.

  2. Thanks Kevin. I've had the same luck trying to photograph butterflies and a lot of other animals.

  3. I've seen a lot of Buckeyes this year too--more than last...and last year was more than the year before!

  4. Hi Kelly. Same here. We've had a couple of good years for southern species to move rapidly northward.

    Hi Pat. They're certainly colorful when you get close enough to see the detail.