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Butterfly another buckeye popular in fall

Butterfly another buckeye popular in fall

Columbus Dispatch
October 18, 2015

NATURE
Jim McCormac

Anything with buckeye in the name is generally popular in these parts. Thus, the common buckeye (Junonia coenia) should indeed be an esteemed butterfly.

No matter what the name, the buckeye is a beautiful bug. Its wings are like an entomological artist’s canvas, painted by a master. Buckeye-shaped spheres rimmed with ocher and tinged with violet and azure accent a brown and orange backdrop. Dashes, bars and wavy lines create striking points of interest.

A casual observer probably wouldn’t notice the butterfly’s ornate detail. Buckeyes dash low over the ground with great rapidity. On the wing, all ablur, they look like little more than a moth on steroids.

But when one alights to feast on flower nectar — whoa! Game on, and out come the cameras. A more striking lepidopteran subject could hardly be found.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about these flashy insects. But a special award merits a repeat performance. In August, an image of a common buckeye was selected to grace the 2016 edition of the Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp.

Having one’s photo judged worthy to grace the stamp is a high honor, and Alice Kahn’s fine photo that made the cut, besting 170 other entries. Kahn, of Oxford, photographed the butterfly on the snowy blossoms of white snakeroot.

Most buckeyes in Ohio are immigrants from farther south. They invade northern latitudes in late summer and fall, sometimes in big numbers. When abundant, the butterflies can appearanywhere, even in weedy urban lots.

Other years, such as this one, buckeye numbers are lean. I had seen very few until last weekend, when I noticed several dozen in Auglaize County. That’s where I made the accompanying image. The buckeye is extracting nectar from the flowers of white heath aster. This abundant native plant is a vital late-fall source of energy for butterflies.

At least some northwardly mobile buckeyes attempt to reproduce here. I’ve encountered their beautiful caterpillars several times on various species of figworts, which are the butterfly’s host plants.

Whether the chrysalises survive the winter is another question. Most buckeyes found here are ones that have recolonized from farther south.

The aforementioned Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp is sponsored by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and is in its seventh year. Having one’s photography adorn the stamp has become quite an honor.
Previous stamps depicted the eastern bluebird, the painted turtle and the eastern amberwing dragonfly, among other interesting subjects.

Ninety-three percent of the stamp’s $15 purchase price is invested into the Wildlife Diversity Fund. Monies go to support educational material such as the free natural history booklets provided by the Division of Wildlife. Other stamp-supported projects include endangered species research, restoration of rare species and habitat acquisition.

The 2016 Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stampfeaturing Kahn’s common buckeye photo will go on sale on March 1. For more information, visit www.wildlife.ohiodnr.gov.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month.

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