Black Beauty

The last session of the 2018 Florida Medical Entomology (FMEL) Volunteer Nature Stewardship class featured FMEL researcher Dr. Nathan Burkett-Cadena and Florida Atlantic University Wilkes Honors College Professor Dr. Jon Moore. Their sustained willingness to share their knowledge with the class is most appreciated.

A short walk on the south Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) followed, and Donna Winter (Class of 2016 ) pointed out a beautiful eastern black swallowtail butterfly (Papilo polyxenes asterius) sunning atop a myrtle oak (Quercus myrtifolia). Myrtle oaks have roundish leaves, and Fergie Peters (Class of Winter 1999) coined the mnemonic, “Myrtle has a round bottom”.

The UF Featured Creatures website describes the eastern black swallowtail butterfly as “one of the most common and most studied swallowtails”. Click here to read about this beauty.

This butterfly is likely the culprit that ravages your parsley (Petroselinum crispum) plants. It has a wide range of larval host plants including cultivated herbs in the Apiaceae (carrot) family and citrus (Rutaceae). Some citrus trees that escaped cultivation “hang on” in the hammock areas at ORCA on the north side of Oslo Road. Or, it could be feeding on one of its native host plants like the very poisonous spot water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) that can be found growing in the ditches along Oslo Road.

Whatever it feasted on as a caterpillar, it is always a delight to see as an adult.

Life in the Treetops – sort of

Though participants in the 2018 Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory (FMEL) volunteer nature stewardship class were looking for mosquito larvae in holes of the great Atlantic land crab (Cardisoma guanhumi) and in native tank bromeliads (Tillandsia  sp.), some Lepidoptera — moths and butterflies — attracted attention.  A number of zebra longing butterflies (Heliconius charitonia) fluttered about, as they visited the plentiful yellow-green flowers of the copious Florida privets (Forestiera segregata) that line the FMEL mosquito control dikes.

The zebra longing butterfly was named the Florida state butterfly in 1996.  A shade-loving butterfly, it is frequently seen at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area.  This butterfly is long-lived, as it has the ability to take pollen from plants for protein.

Visit the University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology Featured Creatures website to learn more about this beautiful butterfly.

Weeds of Wednesday: Tropical Milk-Weed?

Growing in the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) parking lot amongst wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) and last’s week’s Wednesday “weed”, beggarticks (Bidens alba), is what some folks call tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). Other common names include scarlet milkweed, Mexican milkweed, bloodflower, and silkweed.

This plant definitely is weedy and has been volunteering in the ORCA area for years. Below is a photo of a julia butterfly (Dryas iulia) and a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) taken in 2008 along Oslo Road back when it was uncommon to see julia butterflies this far north …

Tropical milkweed is nectar plant for lots of different species of butterflies and is a larval host plant for monarch, queen (Danaus gilippus), and possibly solder (Danaus eresimus) butterflies.

Tropical milkweed is very easy to grow, unlike our 21 species of native milkweeds which tend to be persnickety about growing conditions and germination. You frequently will see tropical milkweed for sale at garden centers.

Planting this non-native milkweed in Florida is controversial due to potential impacts on monarch butterflies. University of Florida Associate Professor Dr. Jaret Daniels believes that there is a correlation between tropical milkweed and a build-up of a protozoan parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE), as well as a potential consequent impacts on monarch breeding during the fall migration. Some people cut their tropical milkweed back to the ground in the fall to avoid this possible problem.

Tropical milkweed is very variable in color, so please do not be fooled. The golden cultivars are still problematic …

Seek out real native species for your garden, if you can, and take care to select a species suited to your site conditions. The xeric scrub on the south side of Oslo Road at ORCA (seen below) is home to a rare Florida endemic Curtiss’ milkweed (Asclepias curtissii) that would fail to thrive in a “usual” garden setting.

Weeds of Wednesday: Bees & Butterflies Love Beggarticks

At the entrance to the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area, now flourishes a big “bush” of beggarticks (Bidens alba). Yes, this plant is weedy and hitchhikes its way around via its 2-toothed seeds that give rise to its species name, Bidens:  Bi = 2,  dens = teeth (Think dentures).

Annoying as it is to get the seeds stuck in your clothes or your hair, you may wish to re-consider the reflex response to pluck up this “weed”. As I watched for far less than a minute before rain ran me off, two pollinators came to visit yesterday including a shiny southern carpenter bee (Xylocopa micans)

… and a tiny, tiny butterfly, the little yellow butterfly (Pyrisitia lisa) …

Also known as the little sulphur (or sulfur) butterfly, this tropical butterfly is about an inch across and can be found throughout much of the U.S. in the summer months. For ID, note the two tiny black dots at the base of its hindwing and the pinkish spot at its apex.

Flowers in the daisy (Asteracae) family, like beggarticks, are its preferred nectar source. Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) is a favored host plant and abundant along Oslo Road throughout the year. Below a bumblebee buzz pollinates a partridge pea flower with ripe and unripe pods evident …

When you “weed” and when you plant, remember the bees and the butterflies and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.