Friday, December 22, 2023

Lessons from the November Butterfly Count

by Grayce Garthoeffner (Naples High School Student) 

Living in Florida, nature is easy to observe from the comfort of our own home on a yearly basis. Birds, squirrels, lizards, and even deer can make an appearance in one’s backyard. But perhaps the most beautiful of them all is the butterfly, whose intricate wings can be seen as they gently ride the breeze or pause at a flower. However, a person doesn’t just have to stop there. Throughout Collier County, three specific parks make traveling to see butterflies an easy job. Sugden, North Collier, and Connor Parks had over 200 butterflies this past November, and 39 different species. In this blog, you will learn more about the butterflies spotted at every location, unique findings, and the importance of conserving this tiny specimen.

Barred Yellow, Dorantes Longtail,
Gulf Fritillary

Starting with the biggest of the three parks, at a whopping 213 acres, is North Collier Regional Park. Because of this, it’s no surprise that most butterflies and individual species were identified. 133 were found, which unlike the other parks had an increase of nine butterflies from the June count.

This park also had the most butterflies unique to its location, that being the Brazilian Skipper, Cassius Blue, Dorantes Longtail Skipper, Eastern Tiger Swallow Tail, Mallow Scrub Hairstreak, Ocola Skipper, and Soldier.

For top of the 10 butterflies spotted throughout all parks, NCRP also held the record for the most in 7 out of the 10 categories. These were the white peacock, monarch, Phaeon Crescent, Gulf Fritillary, Cassius Blue, Barred Yellow, and Firery Skipper. The reason for North Collier being the most diverse and abundant of all parks is because of its big expanse, largest amount of flower types, and multiple habitats. Amongst these are an open field, flower garden, and pond. Interestingly, the Dainty Sulphur was the only butterfly from the top 10 not spotted at all, probably because their host & nectar plants, like Beggarticks, Florida Snow, and Sneezeweed were not in abundance during this count. 

Cassius Blue

Next park is Sugden Regional Park, which had the second most butterflies, coming in at 84 with 13 different species. Even with these stats, Sugden only had one species unique to it, the Longtailed Skipper, likely because the park has a good amount of their host plants, like members of the peas and bean family. Out of the top 10 spotted butterflies Sugden held the record in 3 categories, these being the most Ceranus Blue, White Checkered Skipper, and Dainty Sulpher. The last species especially outnumbered the other parks, and like the Longtailed Skipper, this was because the park was plentiful in their host & nectar plants, like Beggarticks, Florida Snow, and Sneezeweed were not in abundance during this count. 

White Checkered Skipper

Finally, is Connor Park, the smallest of all three, with only 5 acres compared to the 213 of North Collier and 60 at Sugden. Unsurprisingly, its size matches its stats, with 30 butterflies counted in total and 8 different species. Like Sugden, this park had only one unique species, the Statiria Sulphur.

This year, however, the butterfly was counted much less, because their host plant, the coin vine, grows among mangroves, which sustained lasting damage from Hurricane Ian. It is important that efforts are made to bring them back, as the Statiria Sulphur is listed as “imperiled” according to the North American Butterfly Association, which means they are at risk of being harmed/destroyed.

They are also the only at-risk butterfly counted in the three Collier County parks. Unlike the other parks, Connor did not hold the record for any butterfly in the top 10 and counted none for the Ceranus Blue, Gulf Fritillary, Cassius Blue, and White Checkered Skipper. The reason for these shortages is likely because it is the smallest park, lacks the plant diversity the other two have, and suffered the most damage from Ian.

There were a variety of unique discoveries this past November count, such as noticeable absences of Common Buckeyes and Queens. There was also a substantial decrease in the White Peacock, the most common butterfly in the parks; usually, there are over 100 counted, but only 54 were counted this time. These findings may be for a couple of reasons, being a lack of host plants, or just this particular month/year, as the numbers of butterflies can fluctuate.

Florida State Butterfly
Zebra Longwind

However, there is an alarming concern about the Zebra Heliconian, or Zebra Longwing butterflies, as this was the first year they were not spotted in any parks. This, like the Stratira Sulpher, was because much of their host plant, the Corky Stem Passion Vine, was destroyed during Hurricane Ian. Additionally, most people mistake this passion vine for the English Ivy, an invasive. They both have triangular leaves and will grow over other plants if they are unkempt. In order to have thriving Zebra Longwing populations though, if you see the plant below in your yard, do nature a favor and keep it, but trim as necessary, careful to check for any larvae before doing so.

Corkey Stem Passionvine
Common English Ivy

Finally, one new species was spotted, the Ocola Skipper, who are commonly spotted in the South and can occasionally be seen in some Northeastern states in the summer.

Ocola Skipper

Now that we know more about the butterflies in our local area, you may be curious as to why these counts are done and exactly why it’s important. Counts give the county parks an idea about the success of their gardens and clues on how to increase butterfly abundance/variance as they aren’t only exciting to view but provide benefits to the community. The first and most critical is that they help pollinate about 80% of the world’s flowering plants. This allows flowers and organisms who rely on them to flourish, therefore positively impacting us.

Because of this stepping-stone effect, butterflies also can provide details about the health of an ecosystem. For instance, a garden that attracts butterflies will also attract bees, birds, and animals that eat them, giving us an indication of an area’s biodiversity. Plus, butterflies are sensitive to climate change and habitat loss. This means their behaviors may give us clues to a bigger issue, like if their life cycles are disrupted, if their migration patterns change, or if they suddenly leave a location. Like what happened this year with the Zebra Longwing butterfly, which then led experts to think their host plant was affected by Hurricane Ian. This can then lead to research connecting climate change to butterfly health decline, and then climate change to ecosystem decline.

Nature is proven to make us happier and more relaxed, and these small beauties fall into this category. Visiting them in parks or even having your garden can greatly benefit mental health. As one can tell, butterflies offer us not only otherwise unclear understandings about our natural world but also let experts make predictions, bring us joy, and give us insight on how to change our ways for the better.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Protect our ecosystems from invasion!

by Grayce Garthoeffner (Naples High School Student)

Florida is infamous for two things: travelers and the heat. With more than 35 international ports of entry, as well as a subtropical climate, it’s no surprise that we hold the record for the highest amount of invasives, clocking in at 2,032 species, and among these, 79 are plants.  If you yourself are a gardener, you can agree the scene here is very different than other places in the US. I’m sure you are no stranger to failed planting attempts, bothersome pests, and of course, the invasives. Although we may easily identify the looming Australian pines that line the beaches, or kudzu that smothers native plants, there are several invasives that grow in our very own gardens. In this blog, you will discover some of these trouble plants to leave room for the ones that belong.

Starting off is a plant whose brown bulbs make them look non-threatening, almost if I may say, cute! It’s the air potato, which is native to Africa, Asia, and Northern Australia. It produces heart shaped leaves, and fruit that looks like small potatoes, giving them their name. They thrive even in poor soil, and grow rapidly, up to 5 inches in one day.  Their leaves create a thick blanket over other foliage, which leads to the natives dying due to lack of sunlight. To get rid of them in gardens, simply remove the tubers, making sure to pull them all off, or else they will sprout again. ^

Next up is a plant which not only is uncomfortable to humans but also to native vegetation. Torpedo grass has a stiff body with pointy leaves sprouting from the sides, which Floridians know is a bit painful to walk through. It is native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, and was widely distributed in the early 1900s for cattle pasturage. Since then, it has destroyed Florida shorelines, citrus groves, golf courses, and backyards. The marshlands of Lake Okeechobee have lost over 7,000 acres to this nuisance. Like the air potato, it thrives in lots of different soils, and easily spreads. Their roots are interconnected which makes it hard to remove, allowing it to dominate landscapes and crowd out native plants. The key to removing this grass involves pure labor, using tools or gloved hands to uproot it. It is important to fully destroy the roots, making them less likely to return. ^

Following this is a plant that is very popular for homes in Florida but may pose a threat to natives. It is the Sprenger's asparagus fern, a vibrant green plant with spread out stems that make it look like on-land coral. It is native to South Africa and produces small white flowers that grow into bright red berries, which is an attractive factor to homeowners. But one shouldn’t be deceived by this, as its extensive root system and ability to easily grow allows it to displace native plants, preventing them from reestablishing.  Just like the torpedo, the way to remove these pests is by digging up their root system completely, or if it’s potted, throw it in a bag and trash it. ^

Finally, is the yellow iris, which blooms pretty flowers, making it a popular plant for garden ponds. It also thrives in other bodies of water, like the Everglades, where its fast-growing nature makes it outcompete native plants, which may be ones that wetland creatures survive on. Plus, it may also take over breeding grounds for fish or birds. This characteristic of yellow irises is the same as cattails, which are another invasive to watch out for. This iris is native to Europe, Great Britain, North Africa and the Mediterranean region, proving just how flexible it is. It can withstand temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, droughts, and high soil acidity.  It is also important to note that the yellow iris is poisonous; It can cause skin irritation for humans and will sicken or kill most animals that digest it. To safely remove, the best method is to use gloves to try pulling them out close to the stem or digging them out, making sure to also clear away the root system. ^


Air potato're%20from%20Asia,plants%20and%20damage%20local%20ecosystems 

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Sprenger’s asparagus fern 

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Wednesday, July 19, 2023

It really does take a Village

Thank you to the Brisco Family Trust for your generous donation of more than 50 pollinator, Florida Friendly and Native plants for the Conner Park Butterfly Garden and ecosystem.

March 28, 2023 Planting Day - Brisco Family Trust's Donation of more than 50 plants.

After Hurricane Ian, coastal Collier County was reeling from the damage of more than 5' feet of storm surge, in homes, swallowing vehicles, carrying personal and household items blocks from where they were secured prior to the storm.  Our volunteers were among the many who lost homes, cars, or had significant damages to their dwellings and businesses, but they persevered.  

Conner Park is a passive walking park, adjacent the Parking Lot that serves Bluebill Beach Access located at the corner of Bluebill Ave and Vanderbilt Drive.  In 2021 the Volunteer Garden Program worked with Collier County Parks and Recreation's maintenance staff to replant the Conner Park garden as a pollinator garden, making it CCPR's third pollinator garden (at the time.)   

Since then, our volunteer gardeners have been moving caterpillars to other Park gardens to accommodate 

Monday, February 27, 2023

Conner - On it's way to recovery


Conner Butterfly Garden is coming back

December 3, 2022

February 15, 2023

Although I have been watching this garden since the hurricane and have visited about every other week, I was still surprised by the resiliency of nature and the abundance of volunteer seedlings.

Some of the native plants that were originally in the garden are in overdrive coming back up. We are seeing Scorpion Tail, Blanket Flower, Salvia, Yellow Top, Porterweed and Beach Sundune flower. We even have enough now to share with some of the other Collier County Butterfly Gardens.

We still have some major plants that are still missing and likely will not reseed on their own. The team is working to get replacement plants order and in the ground in the next few weeks.

We have a couple of garden friends who have scatter in some Zinna, Cosmos and other annual seeds and they have joined the party, although they might find it tough during our summer heat, we will leave them in place. 

Friday, December 30, 2022

Lessons from the November Butterfly Count

by Grayce Garthoeffner (Naples High School Student)  Living in Florida, nature is easy to observe from the comfort of our own home on a year...

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