Zebra Swallowtails and Palmetto Skippers by Linda Cooper
Way back when Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park was a brand new addition to our state park system, manager Parks Small saw large numbers of Zebra Swallowtails and wondered what other species this new park harbored. He contacted us because we were doing the North American Butterfly Survey’s Fourth of July Butterfly Counts at the property next door — Audubon’s Kissimmee Prairie Sanctuary. What began as a simple butterfly survey in 2001 expanded to two years of surveys and after a brief hiatus, another year was done beginning in May 2005. My name is Linda Cooper and along with husband Buck and a cadre of enthusiastic volunteers, we put this park ‘on the map’ for butterflies especially skippers.
I will be doing a guest blog post here occasionally and am excited to tell you about KPPSP’s butterflies, a few at a time. Let’s start with the most obvious butterfly --Zebra Swallowtail.
Zebra Swallowtail is the most numerous swallowtail at the prairie and is a true harbinger of Spring. Though it begins to fly in January in small numbers, by March there is a large flight when Spring pops out prairie flowers such as thistle. This large white and black swallowtail is unmistakeable and easy to see as it flies across the prairie. Its host plants are paw-paws Asimina species. Flight time is January through October.
Other swallowtails seen regularly here are Black and Palamedes (shown at left on thistle flower) mostly in the open prairies. Giant Swallowtail is mostly restricted to hammocks with citrus trees. Spicebush Swallowtail can be found in open prairie and hammocks. Tiger Swallowtail is the least common of the six swallowtails regularly seen at KPPSP. Polydamas and Pipevine Swallowtails are very rare and are never expected in a visit to the prairie.
Though the yearly butterfly surveys are finished, we are still at KPPSP each year for the NABA Fourth of July Butterfly Count. In 2012 the count is on Saturday, July 14. We welcome anyone interested in butterflies. It is a long, hot day but we usually end up with one of the top counts in the state. If you are interested in participating or have any questions about butterflies you can email me at LCooper298@aol.com.
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