Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beautiful Stranger

So often, a wildlife sighting happens out of the corner of your eye. By the time you turn your head to look more closely, the object of your attention may be gone. Or - if it happens to be your lucky day - it will be sitting there patiently, ready to be admired, and maybe even willing to wait while you run for the camera.

You approach cautiously, your first photos from a distance and perhaps not clear, but at least now you've gotten a few shots.

Feeling emboldened, you move in a little closer, hoping for a better picture. Your prey is still obscured a bit, but there's still a certain charm to the shot.

Do you dare move that leaf out of the way? You take a deep breath, move the leaf ever so gently... and it takes off! Will it fly away, or hover and land nearby again? Fortune is with you! It alights nearby, in an even better position.

Oh, what a perfect shot! The White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae) butterfly you've been stalking is in pristine condition, and its appearance is all the more special because of the rarity of the sighting. Once a common sight in My Florida Backyard, White Peacocks all but disappeared after the record cold winter of 2010, returning only in the last month or two - nearly a year and a half later.

The butterfly seems content to hold still, and you zoom in closer and take dozens of shots (thank goodness for digital cameras), wondering exactly what happened to the Tampa population. White Peacocks are a butterfly of the tropics, common from South Texas and Florida all the way down to South America. Was the resident population killed off when temperatures didn't rise above 45 degrees for a full week in 2010? Has a new population just now migrated north into the area?

There's no way to know for sure. A few of these were seen in the Tampa Bay area last year, in wetter spots on the edge of the bay, where temperatures would have been a bit more moderate during the cold snap. But in My Florida Backyard and other butterfly gardens nearby, butterfly lovers noted the absence of these beauties and hoped they would return to their former abundance someday.

They seem to be doing so now. This was one of a pair haunting My Florida Backyard yesterday. Their beautiful condition indicates they were recently emerged, having undoubtedly grown from caterpillars right here in the area; they breed mainly on Water Hyssop (Bacopa) at the edge of lakes and ponds, and are clearly doing so again here. This sighting not only gave us the chance to photograph a perfect specimen of a gorgeous butterfly - it also gave us the chance to photograph hope for the future.


  1. WONDERFUL photos. When I first saw him I thought 'peacock'. I've only photographed one that I know of. They are rare in my gardens.


  2. Gorgeous beyond words!! Thanks so much for posting such amazing photos. I've never seen a butterfly like it.

  3. Last year was the first time that I had ever seen a white peacock butterfly. I posted it's pic on my Facebook page and Rick Brown identified it for me. I saw them off and on through the summer. This year rarely a day goes by without spotting a few of them in my yard. I don't have any water hyssop (have tried to find it in my local nursery with no luck), but they are also attracted to wild petunia.

    They are my favorite butterfly!

  4. Beautiful butterfly and gorgeous pictures. What a wonderful surprise!