Running with Butterflies

The recent “no movement days” and the sudden quiet of lockdowns has made us engage in more unusual activities than usual. For me, it has been clearing out cupboards and chasing butterflies. For my husband it has been painting the walls and drastically cutting back a flowering bush (without my permission).

Yes, chasing butterflies. We recently planted some more butterfly-friendly flowers in our container garden. And they seem to like it. I bombarded my butterfly guru, Jamaican entomologist Vaughan Turland with crazy videos of these bright creatures blowing around the garden – it has been very windy lately. He said he would prefer still photos to be able to identify them properly. So I slowed down and have been trying to creep up on them while they are sunbathing. So far I have only managed a few photos.

What I love about the butterflies that have appeared in our garden in their various shapes, colors and designs is that they also have wonderful names. Here are a few:

The large picture at the top is of a White Peacock, which likes warm, open sunny places (like our garden) and also likes to have water around. I have seen it near the bird baths and it comes around when I have the garden hose running.

Bottom left is a Cloudless Sulphur, hiding a bit. The one in the middle also had a damaged wing, but it seemed to be flying quite happily. Perhaps one of our birds took a peck at it. It is a male Dryas ilulia Delila, or a Julia Longwing – an elegant butterfly with an elegant name. Its larvae feed on Passiflora (Passion Flowers), I am told; however, we don’t have any of these in our garden. Bottom right is the lovely little Common Tailed Skipper, which I see every day. He is very smart in black and white.

The others which Vaughan has kindly identified for me were all captured on video and since I am not sure how to post those, I have posted some photos below. They are all so different and varied and have their own ways of fluttering and resting and moving on. One zebra-striped one that I see occasionally flaps his wings like a bird.

Now, left to right: the Andraemon Swallowtail (which loves citrus, we have a young lime tree); the Lime Swallowtail, which is so beautiful when flying, just a flickering of black, white, sandy brown and grey; and the Great Southern White, with a nicely painted dark edge to its wings (photo: Anne Toal). All three are fairly large butterflies.

Now there is the Dillons Duskywing Skipper (yes, there are quite a few Duskywings, I realize) – smaller but quite charming. Again, I captured him on video, but should have taken a photo instead. I am looking out for him again. No fancy colors, but he has a beautiful metallic sheen on his wings.

I promise to do better, and produce some fine butterfly photos in the near future! Our butterflies deserve it. Thanks to Mr. Turland, I have identified eight species so far. We are also planning to plant more flowers to attract them. The different species have their specific favorite flowers or plants. We want to cater for as many of the 136 (!!) known butterfly species in Jamaica as we can.

It is highly unlikely that we will enjoy the glowing presence of the endangered and endemic Blue Kite Swallowtail (endemic meaning that it lives only in Jamaica, nowhere else on Earth). It lives in Puerto Bueno Mountain, recently threatened by a mining project. Please read more about it here.

By the way, the Windsor Research Centre in Cockpit Country has a wonderful list of Jamaican butterflies here and also notes:

Did You Know:The largest and the smallest butterflies in the New World occur in Jamaica: they are the Homerus (Giant) Swallowtail (Pterourus homerus; wingspan = up-to 8 inches [200mm]) and the Pygmy Blue (Brephidium exilis; wingspan = 1/2 inch [12mm]).

And then, there is the book Discovering Jamaican Butterflies and their Relationships around the Caribbean by Thomas Turner and Vaughan Turland, which is over 500 pages long, comprehensive, heavy and absolutely splendid. I attended the launch at the Institute of Jamaica, a few years ago.

A Jamaican butterfly Bible. (My photo)

Clearing out cupboards? Well, I am beginning to find that activity rather tedious. I prefer chasing butterflies, with mixed results, in the hot sun and wind gusts.

It seems to have become a lockdown day pursuit – literally. Or a project, perhaps!

3 thoughts on “Running with Butterflies

  1. Morning Emma! I really enjoyed your butterfly blog!! It expresses much love and joy, both of which we need a lot of these days. I feel like I need to go and look for my butterflies too. I hear and see many birds early in the morning – hearing some now, before it gets piercingly hot!! So am sure some butterflies are here as well. Keep well and safe Judith

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Judith: I am so glad you enjoyed it. Yes! It’s as if the butterflies have come to brighten our days, although perhaps they have always been here and I never noticed (one of the “pluses” of COVID lockdown I suppose). You should try taking some pictures of the birds you see and hear in the mornings (early evening is good too) – do you get lots of shorebirds? They are very much endangered in the Caribbean. They tend to quieten down in very hot weather… Take care and you keep well too!

      Liked by 1 person

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