The insects that pollinate our food crops and natural areas are in steep decline. Our suburban landscapes are more important than ever in supporting them. No place for a garden? No problem! Our new video and handout can help you create a small pollinator oasis in a pot!
Be in the know about pollinators
Florida once teemed with Atala butterflies but overharvesting of the Atala’s host plant Coontie caused a drastic decline in butterfly populations. During the mid-20th century Atalas were thought to be extinct. Now populations are rebounding thanks to the high demand for Coontie in native landscaping. Atalas are lovely hairstreak butterflies with velvety black wings that shine with an iridescent aquamarine. The underside of their wings displays three rows of small aquamarine dots and a larger reddish orange spot on the hindwing.
Ceraunus blue butterflies, found in the gossamer-winged family, fly in southern Florida throughout the year. The common name of these small butterflies comes from the violet blue of the male’s dorsal side. Females have a smaller amount of blue which is located on their dorsal side at the base of their wings. The larval hosts of the Ceraunus blue are plants in the Fabaceae family.
White peacock butterflies, found in the brush-footed family, fly in Florida throughout the year. They are small white butterflies with brown markings and orange margins. The common name of the White peacock comes from black spots on the forewings and hindwings, giving the appearance of a peacock’s eyespot. You might notice these lovely winged friends flying close to the ground searching for Turkey-tangle frogfruit, which acts as both a host and nectar plant for them.
This charming swallowtail butterfly is easily distinguishable by the iridescent blue shimmer glowing from the hindwing when wings are open, and the orange spots and blue background on the hindwing when the wings are closed. Wings are black aside from these splashes of color.
In the same genus as Monarchs, Queen butterflies share many characteristics with their royal cousins. Queens and Monarchs are similar in appearance, rely on milkweed as a host plant and carry a toxin from milkweed in their bodies into adulthood. Queens do not participate in the same migration as Monarchs, however, and have distinguishing physical differences.
Bees and butterflies are not our only important pollinators. Hummingbirds play an essential role in dispersing pollen as well. The ruby-throated hummingbird, the most commonly found hummingbird in the eastern United States, is attracted to orange or red tubular flowers.
Originally named for the Delaware tribes of Native Americans near where this butterfly was discovered, the Delaware skipper is now found throughout the eastern United States. This small, bright orange butterfly is attracted to grassy meadows and wet areas. As part of the Grass skipper subfamily of skippers, its larval hosts are grasses and sedges.
Keep your eyes open for Cloudless sulphur butterflies! Monarchs aren’t the only ones migrating this time of year. Fall is a wonderful time to see the Cloudless sulphurs in flight on their southern migration. The Cloudless sulphur can be found year-round in the southern United States, Caribbean and much of South America, but migrating populations extend all the way to Colorado, New Jersey or even Canada during the summer months. Cloudless sulphurs practice a large fall migration to southern regions, much like the Monarch butterfly.
You might find one of these creatures hanging upside-down, but it’s not a bat (or a vampire). It’s a Silver-spotted skipper!
The Silver-spotted skipper is one of the largest, most widespread and recognizable skippers. It has a quick jerky flight that is typical of skippers. This type of butterfly is common and can be found from northern Mexico to southern Canada, as well as most of the continental United States.You can find Silver-spotted skippers throughout Florida. These butterflies enjoy a disturbed habitat, open woods, foothills, stream sides, prairie waterways, edges of forests, swamps, brushy areas and other open areas with nectar plants.
The Gulf fritillary is sometimes known as the Passion butterfly — so named because of its ardor for Passionflower. You will find so much to love about this unique pollinator!
Gulf fritillaries are medium-sized butterflies with elongated forewings that live in the extreme southern United States. Outside of the U.S., they are a broad-ranging species, found throughout Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and into South America.Gulf fritillaries enjoy a variety of habitat including sunny roadsides, disturbed areas, edges, fields, pastures, woodlands, second-growth semitropical forests and urban areas like parks and yards. You may even find them blithely floating around your butterfly garden.
You might not see very much of the Oak hairstreak butterfly, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t around. They are usually just hanging out in the trees above your head!
Oak hairstreak butterflies prefer the tree canopies of oak woodlands, wooded coastal areas, and oak hammocks. You can find them throughout much of the eastern United States, stretching as far west as New Mexico. They can be identified by the two tails on each hindwing, and have greyish-brown undersides with a blue tail-spot and orange coloring above.
White-line sphinx moths can be found throughout the world, but are especially common in North America. They live in habitats ranging from desert to tropics and will forage on a wide variety of flowers. Their long tongues make them well-adapted to sip nectar from long, tubular blooms, and they are common visitors of night blooming flowers.
With over 1,300 species in North America alone, Tachinid flies are an extremely diverse group, yet they are often overlooked. Once you spot one, however, you’re likely to start recognizing them everywhere. Keep your eyes peeled on both flowers and foliage for these hairy pollinators. Tachinid fly larvae are known parasitoids of many nuisance bugs. How they enter their hosts varies, but once inside, all tachinid larvae begin to consume their host internally. This may sound like a Halloween horror story, but Tachinid larvae are great at keeping garden pests in check.
Goldenrod soldier beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) are pollinators and predators of pesky garden pests. They are found throughout Florida and most of the United States. Their populations peak in late summer and early fall, perfectly timed with the bloom of goldenrod. These common beetles prefer sunny spots with rich nectar sources, such as gardens, fields and roadsides.
Zebra longwing butterflies (Heliconius charitonia) are found throughout the state, but this common Florida butterfly is anything but ordinary! Their elongated wings make them easy to distinguish from other Florida natives, but their unique attributes don’t stop there.
Chimney bees like the Mustached mud and Hibiscus bees are solitary ground nesters that have serious architectural talent! Both bees superficially resemble bumblebees in appearance. They’re fast flying, robust bees with dense yellow hairs on their thorax. (Hibiscus bees also have yellow hairs on their face.)
Southeastern blueberry bees are our most efficient blueberry pollinators, but they are only active for a short period of time in early spring!
The Eucerini tribe is collectively referred to as the “long-horned bees,” but some genera within this tribe have other common names such as squash bees and sunflower bees. Long-horned bees can be difficult to tell apart, but males are easy to spot with their extraordinarily long antennae!
Megachilidae (commonly referred to as leafcutter, mason, orchard or cuckoo bees) are a large family of solitary nesters with distinctive and fascinating behaviors. Many are easily recognizable and can be attracted to your yard with artificial nesting boxes.
Bumble bees are very efficient pollinators because they “buzz pollinate.” The bee grabs onto a flower and vibrates its flight muscles but not its wings. This causes the flower to release its pollen. It also creates an audible buzz at the frequency of a middle C note. The genus name Bombus comes from the Greek bombos, which means “buzzing sound.”
Many Floridians become familiar with carpenter bees by accident. They may notice a hole that appears to have been drilled into unpainted wood around their homes with a sawdust pile beneath it. Or they might hear a buzzing sound coming from within the hole. Both are telltale signs of carpenter bees.
More buzz about pollinators
Many of us are aware of the monarch’s population decline that has been well documented by researchers. Weather, habitat destruction of overwintering grounds in California and Mexico, and loss of food source on migration routes have caused great concern in the last…
In the last decade or so, honey bee populations worldwide have significantly diminished due to unknown causes. Less known is the fact that native bee populations in North America are also in decline. As more rural and wild landscape becomes suburban and…
Tropical milkweed can enable monarchs to continue breeding well into fall and winter, causing populations to persist longer in certain areas than they naturally would. Unfortunately, this can foster higher than normal infection rates by a lethal protozoan parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE).…
Resources for protecting pollinators
The guide features 70 Florida native wildflowers, shrubs, vines and grasses for landscape use. Its helpful key gives quick and easy information on each species’ hardiness zone and soil and light requirements. Bloom color and season, and information on pollinators is also included. Download the PDF.
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“Butterflies are self-propelled flowers.”
— Robert A. Heinlen