Monday, December 2, 2013

More globetrotting butterflies

Monarch butterfly, the most famous traveler. © Beatriz Moisset
In my last post I discussed two butterflies, the red admiral and the painted lady, that rival the monarch in their annual journeys. If you found this information surprising, you would be even more surprised to learn that there are several other butterfly globetrotters. Other insects capable of long range migrations are several species of dragonflies. There may be many others.

Let us look at a few more migratory butterflies.

Cloudless sulphur. © Lynette Schimming.
Sulphurs are butterflies that range in color from lemony yellow to orange. The name refers to their color. One among them, the cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae), travels from Canada to Texas, Florida, and Mexico in the fall. It also lives in South America, as far south as Argentina. We don't know much about the migration of the cloudless sulphur, other than when going south in the fall, they move steadily and purposely, hardly stopping to eat. We know even less about the ones that live in South America, whether they travel much and whether they mix with the North American populations.

Common buckeye. © Beatriz Moisset
Another lovely vagabond is the common buckeye (Junonia coenia), so called for the distinctive spots on its wings. Not content with one pair of eyespots, it has three. Not visible when the wings are folded, they make quite a display when it decides to spread them. It must be a scary sight to a hungry bird, which may induce it to leave the morsel alone.

Common Buckeye. View of the underside. © Beatriz Moisset
When the monarch butterfly shows in large numbers in Cape May, NJ, every October and November, so does the common buckeye. I am just as happy to see one as the other. It lives year round in the southern states, as well as in Central America and Colombia. Apparently, some don't travel much; others get the urge to go north, as far as Canada. Their descendants head south in the fall. Once again, we don't know much more about its movements.

A gaggle of buckeyes takes a rest on their way south
  © Beatriz Moisset
It is curious to me that only one globetrotter, the monarch butterfly, has caught the public imagination, leading to numerous observations. Nowadays, we know quite a bit about its complicated trips north and south. I am just as eager to learn about other tiny organisms' urge to cover large distances that seem to exceed their capabilities. I hope this awakens your appetite for more information on all these adventurous little souls.


  1. I enjoyed this post, but didn't catch the previous one. I'll look that up next. I have been seeing more sulphers than usual the last few days. They have been on the New England asters more than other blooms. I have also seen one or two buckeyes at a time for the last month or so.

  2. Where are you located? I know that Buckeyes are quite numerous in Cape May, NJ, in the fall coinciding with the peak of the monarch migration.