With summer turning to fall, and fall into winter, visitors to Daufuskie are bound to notice a few of the changes taking place. Leaves falling, birds migrating, air cooling: all staples of an upcoming winter. There is, however, one change in particular that attracts the attention of visitors and locals alike. Butterflies! For those visiting in August and September, it seems as though everywhere one looks, there’s butterflies for miles around. As butterflies emerge from their chrysalises and begin their journeys south, the influx of these critters on Daufuskie makes for some surreal encounters. From the zebra longwings to the black swallowtails, cloudless sulphurs to the hackberry emperor, there’s plenty of variety to go around. And yet it seems that one kind of butterfly in particular dominates Daufuskie’s airways… or perhaps it’s two.
The gulf fritillary and the monarch butterfly are two of the most common Daufuskie butterflies. They also happen to be the most commonly mistaken butterflies on the island, often being called by the other’s name. It’s a reasonable mistake. Both butterflies are orange, both are around the same size, and both have an almost identical wing shape. How could one not confuse the two?! Fortunately, there are some key differences that will help any visitor or full-time resident alike tell the two apart.
To begin, let’s look at the butterflies before they’re even butterflies at all! As caterpillars, the two are wildly different. The gulf fritillary caterpillar resembles something of a spiky cheeto, if you will. It’s bright orange, and sports numerous black branched spines. While it looks menacing, the gulf fritillary caterpillar isn’t all that bad. They’re safe to touch, their spikes being something of a faux defense. However, eating the caterpillar is a different story. They’re poisonous to all predators, causing upset stomachs, and sometimes death. It’s the caterpillars bright color that tips off potential predators as to its poisonous status.
As for the monarch caterpillar, black, white, and yellow stripes are more its style. Being roughly the same size as the fritillary caterpillar, it shares no visible similarities beyond that. Just like the fritillary caterpillar, monarch caterpillars are safe to hold, but not to eat! They, like the fritillaries, are poisonous, and in the same manner as the fritillaries, sport bright colors to let predators know.
Onto the butterflies themselves, there are a few tips and tricks that’ll help you distinguish one from the other. While both butterflies possess the exact same colors (orange, white, and black) the ratios of the two colors on the butterflies are very different. On the gulf fritillary, you’ll note nearly 90 percent orange, 9 percent black, and only about one percent white. The monarch however is nearly 50 percent orange, 40 percent black, and a good 10 percent white.
Then there’s the butterfly’s spots. Both butterflies have spots, however, the spots’ colors are different. The fritillary has orange spots, dotting its hindwing, whereas the monarch has white spots, dotting both its forewing and hindwing.
Lastly, body color. Fritillaries have an orange body, matching its majority-orange wing color. The monarch on the other hand has a black body, contrasting nicely from the orange of its wings.
It’s these little variations between the two butterflies that will make all the difference in identifying the two. As fall wanes and winter begins, our butterflies are beginning to migrate south, leaving little ole’ Daufuskie behind. However come next summer and fall, these Daufuskie butterflies will be back, ready to show off their beautiful newly found wings, posing for pictures at any given opportunity.
Interested in the many creatures, big and small, that call Daufuskie home? Join us on a Wild Daufuskie Eco Tour to get up close and personal with the diverse ecosystems on Daufuskie Island!