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28 Nov 2017
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Sanibel Wildlife

“Butterflies are self propelled flowers. ”
― R.H. Heinlein

And so we who love Sanibel would agree. While there is so much wild life on Sanibel Island that the "mere" butterfly can easily be missed, those who love these self propelled flowers will not be disappointed.

When it comes to the sheer variety in butterflies, Sanibel stands tall. In fact, there are approximately 28,000 butterfly species worldwide. In the United States and Canada there are about 725 species. 80% are in the tropics, and Sanibel has quite a few to brag about.

In fact, one nice aspect of a Sanibel holiday is the tour of the Butterfly House at the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF).

The Butterfly House was conceived by the Native Plant Nursery as an extension of the Landscaping for Wildlife program. It was constructed by Foundation Volunteers (the screen enclosure was subcontracted), and financed through the Lolly Cohen Memorial Fund and donations.

One of the exhibit’s primary functions is to educate residents and visitors about butterfly biology and wildlife ecology. One can observe butterflies at all stages of their life cycle, from egg to caterpillar to pupa to adult. Plants within the exhibit provide nectar for adults from flowers and leaves as food for their caterpillars. The larval plants for the caterpillars are essential to the completion of a butterfly’s life cycle.

Butterfly House Tours are Tuesdays at 10 a.m. for a suggested $1 donation. A guide will teach you about the life cycle and behavior of butterflies. The butterfly house is open year-round to all visitors without a guide. It's a very special place, and we highly recommend a visit.

Some of the Butterflies you will learn about at the Butterfly House are those you will see commonly throughout the Island.

The Dingy Purplewing has an upperside that is brown-black with a slight purple sheen. Dull, blurry white spots on forewing apex. Underside is brownish gray with no distinct pattern. The purplewing in caterpillar stage can be found in Gumbo Limbo trees, quite prevalent on the Island. As adult butterflies they eat otting fruit, dung, and sap; seldom flower nectar.

More brilliant in appearance is the Ruddy Daggerwing. The tip of Ruddy Daggerwing's forewing is elongated. The hindwing has long dagger-like tails. Upperside is orange with 3 thin black lines. Underside is mottled brown and black, resembling a dead leaf. In caterpillar stage, the Daggerwing can be found living in common fig trees (Ficus carica) and wild banyan tree (F. citrifolia) in the fig family (Moraceae). As adults their diets are largely nectar from giant milkweed in Florida; cordia, casearia, lantana, and mikania in the tropics.

But perhaps our favorite on the Island is the Gulf Fritillary, easily and often seen. This "popular" guy has an upperside bright orange with black markings; 3 black-encircled white dots on forewing leading edge. Underside brown; forewing with orange at base; both wings with elongated, iridescent silver spots. As caterpillars, they can be found in various species of passion-vine including maypops (Passiflora incarnata) and running pop (P. foetida). As adult butterflies, their food is nectar from lantana, shepherd\'s needle, cordias, composites, and others.