"Hey, Buckeye butterfly, you over there with chunks of a wing missing, yeah you, what happened?"
"Well, it was like this. I was just fluttering around, looking for some good nectar, and a predator grabbed me. I don't know what it was. Maybe it was a praying mantis. Maybe it was a bird or a spider. I don't know. It happened so fast. But anyhow, I lost a couple of eyespots. Yes, it got a piece of me. But it didn't get all of me. I'm still here!"
It's the eyespots--or the missing eyespots--you notice first about the Buckeye butterfly, Junonia coenia.
The eyespots are thought to offer some kind of protection from predators.
"Predators think the eyespot is an eye on the head of its prey," according to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida website. "If the predator attacks the eyespot, it might chew off part of the butterfly's wing, but the butterfly's vital organs escape damage."
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has studied the butterfly populations of the Central Valley since 1972, writes about the Buckeye on his website, Art's Butterfly World:
"The Buckeye breeds on plants containing bitter iridoid glycosides, including plantains (Plantago, especially P. lanceolata), various Scrophulariaceae (especially Fluellin, Kickxia), and Lippia (Lippia or Phyla nodiflora). The spiny, black-and-white caterpillar has a bright orange head. Its behavior suggests its diet makes it virtually immune to vertebrate predation, but the pupa and adult are quite edible.
"Male Buckeyes are territorial perchers, usually on bare ground. Both sexes visit a great variety of flowers, from Heliotrope and Lippia to California Buckeye and Rabbitbrush! They often swarm over Coyotebrush (Baccharis) in autumn, especially the male plants.
And always, always, the Buckeyes need to keep an eye out for their predators.
A miss is as good as a mile...or a smile.
The Buckeye (Junonia coenia) is a striking butterfly patterned with eyespots and white bars. We saw one today nectaring on sedum, but with chunks of a wing missing. Perhaps a bird or a praying mantis tried to grab it. It narrowly escaped predation.
A lucky day.
It's quite a common butterfly, as common as it is recognizable.
The Buckeye "is found in southern Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia and all parts of the United States, except the Northwest," according to Wikpedia. It's also found throughout Central America and Colombia.
"The Buckeye breeds on plants containing bitter iridoid glycosides, including plantains (Plantago, especially P. lanceolata), various Scrophulariaceae (especially Fluellin, Kickxia), and Lippia (Lippia or Phyla nodiflora)," says butterfly expert Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, on his website. "The spiny, black-and-white caterpillar has a bright orange head. Its behavior suggests its diet makes it virtually immune to vertebrate predation, but the pupa and adult are quite edible."
Well, this is one adult that got away.
The buck stops here.
Whether it's doing the fandago on the plantago, the can-can on the lantana or the waltz on the sedum, it's easy to spot.
That's because of its large eyelike circles on its wings. That's enough to scare any predator--and distinguish it from other butterflies.
On his butterfly-monitoring website, noted lepitdopterist Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says that the "male buckeyes are territorial perchers, usually on bare ground. Both sexes visit a great variety of flowers, from Heliotrope and Lippia to California buckeye and rabbitbrush! They often swarm over coyotebrush (Baccharis) in autumn, especially the male plants."
Lately we've seen the buckeye on Sedum (a genus in the family Crassulaceae) and Lantana (genus in the family Verbenaceae).
If you’re interested in the butterflies of the San Francisco and Sacramento areas, be sure to check out Shapiro’s Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions. Illustrated by Timothy Manolis, it's published by the University of California Press.
The California Buckeye (Junonia coenia), with its bold eyespots and white bars, is an easily recognizable butterfly.
The problem: getting close enough for a photo and then patiently waiting for it to open its wings. At the first indication of danger, it flutters away.
The eyespots are supposed to scare away predators, but they certainly don't scare away a praying mantis.
Kristen Kolb, master gardener extraordinaire who helps tend the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, recently spotted a ripped-apart Buckeye in the sedum.
We suspect a praying mantis grabbed it and feasted on the head, thorax and abdomen, leaving behind the wings.
The wings with the bold eyespots.
The eyespots--they're almost hypnotic.
And that's what makes the buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) so easily recognizable--the bold pattern of eyespots on the wings, bold enough to startle and scare away prey.
This buckeye (below) fluttered along the grounds of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, and finally dropped to the bare soil.
It appeared almost camouflaged...except for those magnificent eyespots.