I feel now that the killing frosts have come, I can say that the Buckeye invasion is over for another year. I’m not talking nuts here or those folks who scream “I O” whenever “O H” is chanted (or those few who combine traits of both). No, I’m talking butterfly here – as in Buckeye Butterflies. They invade Michigan every fall but their stay here is all too short.
I am not happy to see them go, for they are arguably one of the prettiest of North American butterflies. Adorned with peacock spots and bright, but not gaudy, colors they are classic members of the brush-footed clan. This species is frequently used as the poster child to represent all butterflies because they are so drop-dead gorgeous. If you’ve never seen one before then take a look at these photos (below and here) and see if you don’t agree with me.
I can’t remember a time in recent history when I saw so many of these beauties flying about S.E. Michigan. I look every year but don’t find them every year. Whenever I do find one, it was always in the fall. This fall I saw Buckeyes in great abundance no matter where I looked. Everywhere from St. Louis, Missouri to Dayton, Ohio and all parts in-between, they were seen flashing their beauty about. I suspect they had a good year throughout the eastern U.S. This statement may only be a hunch, but I feel like they were probably abundant back in Notre Dame too (a hunch back of Notre Dame, you could say).
Buckeye Butterflies undergo annual migrations as their summer populations swell into late summer. They are basically a southern butterfly that flies between May and October. In good years they can produce up to three broods and each successive hatch is imbibed with increasing doses of wanderlust. “Papa was a rolling stone,” they chant, “wherever he laid his hat was his home.” Unlike other migratory creatures, these insects actually move north in the autumn to place their collective hats on new ground. Usually these expansions end in death (“and when he died…” O.K, I’ll stop) because they can’t survive harsh winters. On occasion, temporary northern colonies will become established as they recently did in parts of Ontario.
This season was a special one and we’ll see if any of the northern voyageurs will “take” in S.E. Michigan. Nearly all of our regional Buckeyes would have flown in as adults. If the evidence on trail post No. 4 was any indication, however, they might literally be hanging around for awhile. A mystery butterfly chrysalis hanging on a trail podium (see above and here) turned out to be that of a Buckeye. This superbly camouflaged chrysalis was evidence enough that at least one generation of this species was locally produced this year. Fortunately, a return trip to the podium a month later revealed that the creature successfully emerged (see empty casing below). We had, and maybe still have, a native born son in our midst.
Buckeyes overwinter as adults, so it is hoped that this freshly emerged butterfly found suitable shelter before the last bout of hard freezes hit. As I said before, most do not make it into the following spring and this one will probably require an obituary as well. Never-the-less, I will be looking early next year for something I’ve never seen before – a Michigan born Buckeye in the month of May.