Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Butterfly’s Place for the Winter

Many people wonder what happens to butterflies in the winter. Aside from the now well-known story of the Monarch butterfly’s migration to Mexico, many of us don’t know where others go. We do know that not all of them migrate; some of them overwinter as caterpillars, in pupas, or even as adults in sheltered places. This week, a trip that I made to Florida revealed where the Gulf Fritillary goes. It was like finding the end of the rainbow!

Gulf Fritillary on Bidens alba
According to NABA (the North American Butterfly Association), the following butterflies do spend winters in warmer places: Cloudless Sulphur, Little Yellow, Gulf Fritillary, Painted Lady, American Lady, Red Admiral, Common Buckeye, Long-tailed Skipper, Clouded Skipper, Fiery Skipper. I had certainly noticed that some butterflies don’t arrive in my garden until summer when their favorite flowers are in bloom, but I didn’t realize they might be traveling to get there.

Our trip to St. George Island on the Gulf side of Florida had us traveling through south Georgia where the roadsides were lined with fall flowers.  In sunny places, I saw yellow goldenrod (Solidago), white thoroughwort (Eupatorium), and tall pink false foxglove (Agalinis). Tucked into part-shade areas was a prolific white flower that I finally realized was Bidens alba (which has various common names like beggarticks).

After arriving on the island, I began to notice the orange Gulf Fritillary butterflies, but I didn’t think anything of it as they are still flying at my house. They were happily nectaring on the Bidens. After a while, it became apparent that there were a LOT of them. One patch of roadside would contain dozens if not hundreds of them! Something was different here.

Gulf Fritillary on Liatris (St. George State Park)

I searched on the Internet for more information and found references that they do migrate into Florida for the winter. Now the name “Gulf” Fritillary makes more sense – we were on the Gulf side! It was an amazing aspect of our visit to see them in such large quantities wherever we went on the island. Thank goodness for the fall flowers like the Bidens, beach morning glory (Ipomoea imperati), false rosemary (Conradina canescens), blazingstars (Liatris), and October flower (Polygonella polygama).

Tattered Gulf Fritillary on Conradina canescens
Many other butterflies were there too but not in such abundance. I even found one Monarch among them – noticeably different in size despite the similar color. All in all, finding the butterflies was a great addition to an already fun trip.


  1. You find beauty any place you go. Thanks, Ellen

  2. How fun to see them in their winter habitat. Did you see lots of passion vine around there? I'm wondering if they mate in their winter sites as they do in their summer homes.

    1. Actually, I saw zero passionvine! And I really looked for it.

  3. I see, it makes perfect sense for it to be called a GULF fritillary! I love that butterfly, the pattern on the underside of the wings is incredibly beautiful.