BROOKSVILLE — Although active in the spring, butterflies in Florida tend to languish during the summer heat. But once September rolls around, things change.
When the heat and humidity give way to cooler temperatures, wildflowers thrive. And butterflies can't get enough.
That's why autumn is a lepidoptera enthusiast's dream. According to Chinsegut Nature Center's Bev Hansen, it's the most active time of the year for native swallowtails, sulfurs and brushfoots, as well as monarchs migrating to their winter homes.
Hansen, who leads several butterfly and wildflower walks each year at Chinsegut, says she has never been disappointed during her fall outings. Butterfly-friendly wildflowers such as passion vine, Spanish needles, blazing stars and frog fruit are in full bloom. Cooler temperatures have chased away most of the pesky summertime insects.
"If you want to go out and see butterflies in their natural habitat, there's really no better time of the year," Hansen said. "It's rare to see so many species in one place at one time."
On Tuesday morning, Hansen plans to guide visitors through part of the nature center's newly acquired 320-acre Janet Butterfield Brooks Preserve in northwest Hernando County in search of butterflies.
The area, noted for its stands of old-growth longleaf pines, recently underwent a prescribed burn to rid it of thick underbrush. Wildflowers have since sprung up in great numbers, Hansen said.
Although Chinsegut is home to many native butterfly species, Hansen said the most fascinating is the monarch. By far the longest-living North American butterfly, monarchs, which are easily recognizable by their distinctive orange and black pattern, travel several hundred miles south to lay their eggs, and can live as long as eight months.
"September and October are the months you're most able to see them, and it's fascinating to think where they may have come from," Hansen said.
In addition to watching butterflies in action, Hansen said, the group will search plants for caterpillars and signs of emerging adult butterflies.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.