Birds are not the only winged animals that capture our attention. Floridians are rapidly discovering the excitement of butterfly watching. Like birding, butterfly watching is a fun and simple way to explore wild Florida and a great outdoor activity for the whole family. Few other forms of wildlife can be as easily observed as butterflies. These colorful insects occur in almost any location from back yards and city parks to roadsides and natural areas. In fact, many species can be attracted easily to home or schoolyard gardens, making daily observations a snap.
More than 765 species of butterflies occur in North America, north of Mexico. Florida is home to a total of 187 butterfly species, the most of any state east of the Mississippi River. Learning to identify even the most common of these butterflies may seem challenging at first. Even experienced naturalists may have difficulty separating a few of our very similar-looking butterflies. However, with a little help, proper identification does not have to be frustrating.
Don't expect to find 100 different species on your first day in the field. Take things slowly and, most importantly, have fun. You will quickly realize Florida is indeed the ideal environment for butterfly enthusiasts. In addition to year-round sunshine and mild temperatures, the state offers a wonderful combination of common butterflies, unique species found nowhere else and the possibility of encountering a rare tropical stray.
Butterfly viewing is inexpensive and a great way to spend time outside with family and friends.
For further information about butterflies in Florida, please visit the Florida Museum of Natural History' s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. The Center is dedicated to understanding, preserving and interpreting the world's Lepidoptera, biodiversity and the environment. Here you will find research projects being conducted by the Center, activities for teachers and students, lists of plants that attract butterflies and a gallery of photos of butterflies, moths and caterpillars.
For even more on Florida's butterflies, please visit FWC's Imperiled Butterflies of South Florida Workgroup (IBWG). The IBWG was created in response to the heavy decline in numbers of certain species of butterflies in South Florida, due to threats such as habitat loss. Other butterfly sites you may wish to visit include the Florida Butterfly Monitoring Network and the Butterfly Conservation Initiative.
How Can I Help?
You can help butterflies in your own back yard by growing both host plants for larvae and nectar plants for adults. Visit the University of Florida's web site for a list of plants you can grow to benefit butterflies in your particular region of the state.
A set of four booklets on Florida' s butterflies, Florida Butterfly Encounters, is available for $10 from the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension Bookstore website.
These booklets were produced by Dr. Jaret C. Daniels with funding from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in cooperation with the Florida Museum of Natural History, the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
- Florida Butterfly Gardening
- 50 Common Butterflies of Florida
- Butterfly Watching Basics
- Checklist of Florida Butterflies
Excerpts from "Florida's Other Winged Wonders" by Jaret Daniels and Anne Glick, Florida Wildlife Magazine, July/August 2008 Issue.