For several weeks now, I've been trying to identify a tiny black butterfly that visits frequently. It eluded every attempt to photograph it, until this weekend, when I was finally able to snap this pretty unsatisfactory picture:
The picture, blurry and taken through the screen, was at least enough to confirm my initial impressions - black with white wing tips and orange on its body. I set off looking through butterfly books, and websites, and every resource I could come up with, to identify this fine fellow. No dice.
Ultimately, I wound up at BugGuide.net and worked my way through several pages of pictures before finally identifying the mystery guest. Turns out it's not a butterfly - it's a white-tipped black moth. It's unusual because it's a day-flying moth, and that's probably why I had so darn much trouble identifying it.
A little more research told me that earlier in its lifetime, my white-tipped black moth was a snowbush caterpillar. "Hey!" I thought. "I have a snowbush in the butterfly garden!" So I headed out this afternoon to see if I have any caterpillars.
Turns out my snowbush is pretty much covered in these little guys. For a fun game, click the picture below to enlarge it and see how many caterpillars you can count.
They're pretty cute little guys, if you like caterpillars. They're almost hard to get good pictures of, because they're so busy inching their way along the branches!
My guess is it's very possible these guys will completely defoliate and possibly even kill the snowbush, based on articles I've come across on the internet. I'm OK with that though - turns out this is a non-native that I planted before I had fully done my butterfly garden research. Besides, the purpose of a butterfly garden is to provide food for both caterpillars and butterflies; I generally expect the plants in this garden to look a little ragged.
We'll see what happens to the snowbush in the coming months. In the meantime, I'm pleased to have a new creature to watch in My Florida Backyard!