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.
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.
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
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.
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.