A walk in the park

Checkered skipper at Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center in Davie, FL


I saw my first checkered skipper a few years ago in Colorado. I'd never seen a butterfly with such a pattern and it was so tiny, only about the size of a dime. At the time I had never seen one in Florida.

Several months later, I spotted one here and was pretty excited about it. Ever since, I've felt lucky whenever I see one -- which isn't often. You know how some people feel about finding a penny (heads up) or a four-leaf clover? That's how I feel about encountering checkered skippers - or perhaps I should say a checkered skipper as I've never seen more than one at a time.

I love how they fly by so quickly looking like the dullest of little moths but if you bother to follow them to the spot where they land, you can witness the magic of their beauty.

Seeing one while walking at Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center on Friday felt like a reward. This summer has been the hottest I can recall. So doing my typically long walk in a park has been anything but "a walk in the park."

But being among interesting insects, birds, trees and plants can make an intensely hot walk more bearable and kind of special. The fact there is a shady oak hammock at this park is an added bonus.

The checkered skipper was just one of several butterflies I saw on Friday's walk, along with other highlights, such as grasshoppers, iguanas and a beautiful family of moorhens that I have come to know over many visits to the park. I'll post a video of them later. Meanwhile, here are some of the other small creatures I encountered at Long Key.


Ruddy daggerwing at Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center in Davie, FL

Ruddy daggerwings (Marpesia petreus) were plentiful. As colorful as they are from this angle, the underside of their wings are not nearly as vibrant in color.


Ruddy daggerwing at Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center in Davie, FL

This is the duller flipside of the wings of the ruddy daggerwing. It looks a bit like a dried-up leaf.


Skipper at Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center in Davie, FL

I've come to know several species of skippers in recent years but this one is new to me. A member of an insect identification group suggested it may be Erynnis horatius (also known as Horace's Duskywing) and based on the photos she provided via a link to an insect site, I would definitely agree.


Zebra longwing at Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center in Davie, FL

Zebra longwings were fluttering in various spots throughout the park. This is Florida's state butterfly and I am sure you can see how it gets its name.


Thin-lined passionvine beetle at Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center in Davie, FL

The first thin-lined passionvine beetle (Disonycha stenosticha) I've ever seen was in the ephemeral wetland habitat of this park. Every time I visit Long Key, I now make a point of bending down and looking for one crawling atop of the passionvine that runs along the ground. I'm rarely disappointed.

You would probably never see this striped beetle if you weren't looking for it. So if you would like to observe one,  maybe you should keep an eye out for it when you see passionvine. They're kind of shy, so if you spot one, unobtrusive quiet observation is probably best.

I wish I could tell you more about this beetle ... but I haven't been able to learn many details about it yet. All I know is that Long Key Nature Center is the only place I see it ... and only on passionvine. I have no idea whether they're attracted to a bug or caterpillar that feeds on the passionvine -- or if they are attracted to the vine itself.

But isn't it beautiful?


Grasshopper at Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center in Davie, FL

As I walk the path through the ephemeral wetland habitat ... I also hear the familiar sound of crackling and buzzing grasshopper wings as various species of the insect zig-zag across the wonderfully overgrown field. While flying, they're quite noisy for their size. When you were a kid, did you ever attach a playing card to your bike, so that the card would hit the spokes of your wheel as you pedal? Imagine the sound that makes, but maybe not quite as sharp. That's how the grasshoppers sound as they fly across the path.

In the past I've seen mostly green grasshoppers in this field -- and some that look kind of yellow while flying -- but on Friday I saw a gigantic orange and yellow one as well as the one pictured here. I've sought help in determining exactly what kind of grasshopper this is ... but no luck yet.

I do know that this grasshopper was shy ... so I feel lucky to have caught a glimpse - and even a photograph -- before he/she took a giant leap to its next adventure.

These are some of the creatures that make a walk in the park slightly more bearable during South Florida's hellaciously hot summers.


Checkered skipper at Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center in Davie, FL