By Dan Kirk
Close your eyes and think about the last butterfly you saw; where were you? Was it sitting on a host plant? Were you sitting on a host plant? Did it hit up against your windshield as you were driving or did it flutter right past your face? When was the last time you had butterflies in your stomach? If you don’t have any memory of a recent butterfly spotting, then keep your eyes peeled. There are around 145 butterfly species in the Bay Area and many of them are out and about! Butterflies are awesome for a few reasons, firstly being that they are pollinators, helping to fertilize plants, and secondly, their form, as you all likely know, is the final state of a very cool metamorphic process. Let’s just revert back our six year old selves and experience the wonderment of these insects! A few months ago, when I saw a bunch of caterpillars in a garden, I didn’t even think about how they would become butterflies. One of the most intriguing looking butterflies in the Bay Area is called the Junonia ceonia, or Common Buckeye. This month’s challenge is to keep your eyes peeled for this butterfly.
Junonia ceonia is a fascinating butterfly because of its “eyespots” that spook predators from pecking at them. Their wing design is both abstract yet associative, because of the handful aforementioned roundish spots that look like eyes. The eyespots are symmetrically placed on their wings in a few different places, so if it’s even a bit trippy for me to look at, then it’s definitely got to be confusing for, say, a bird. In their caterpillar (larvae) state, they have similar coloring, mostly black and brown with hints of yellow, blue and orange. It’s the type of caterpillar that has soft bristles on its dorsal (back) sticking out over each pair of legs. This safety tactic may deter predators more than humans because many kids like to pick up and pet the fuzzy ones (I don’t think I’m just speaking about myself…). The caterpillar’s life only lasts for around 25 days, then it finds a nice spot to hang upside to form its chrysalis, or its cocoon. The magic in the chrysalis happens in less than a week, and the butterfly is released.
It may be a bit challenging to find this butterfly if you don’t know where to look. Here are some of the most common host plants for the Common Buckeye: Purple Owl’s Clover, Vervain, Azure Penstemon, Common Plantain, Musk Flower, Common Lippia, Brooklime, Roving Sailor, Lanceleaf Fogfruit and Cutleaf Indian Paintbrush. While you’re keeping your eyes peeled, notice the other types of fluttering insects and most importantly, be safe!