Pearly-Eyes, Beetles and Others

Top Photo: Northern pearly-eye.

There are three butterflies in our region known as pearly-eyes, northern pearly-eye, southern pearly-eye, and creole pearly-eye. Though they all are reported from this area, the one that I come in contact most often is northern pearly-eye.

They’re all medium sized butterflies and very similar in appearance. The northern pearly-eye, as does the others, has a row of eye-spots on the forewing. Northern and southern pearly-eyes have four eye-spots. Creole pearly-eye has five. In Northern pearly-eye these eye-spots are arranged, more or less, in a straight line, southern pearly-eye’s eye-spots are somewhat curved. Northern pearly-eye has a black mark near the end of its orange tipped antennae, southern lacks the black on the antennae.

Northern pearly-eye. Note inline row of spots on forewing, and black and orange antennae tips.

Northern pearly-eye seems to prefer a more rocky, upland habitat near water, habitat in which I most frequently hike. I’ve only seen either southern or creole pearly-eyes on the coastal plain.

Not far from the pearly-eye, along the same path, I noticed a small silhouette on a leaf in front and to the right of me. A closer look revealed an orange and black beetle. I knew it was a leaf beetle and I knew I’d seen it in the past, but needed a refresher. I quickly found the beetle in my insect field guide, a larger elm leaf beetle.

Silhouette of beetle on leaf.

Larger elm leaf beetles are by no means large (about 1/2”), but among leaf beetles, they’re one of the biggest of the lot. There’s another leaf beetle called the elm leaf beetle. It, is only about 1/4” in length, half the size of the larger elm leaf beetle.

Larger elm leaf beetle. Smaller insect looks like an aphid or psyllid nymph.

Apparently, both adults and larvae larger elm leaf beetles feed on leaves, though it’s the larvae that do most of the damage, skeletonizing the leaves as the insects mature. The elm leaf beetle is an introduced species. Though not as large, the elm leaf beetle is the bigger pest as far as damage to foliage. It’s the one that gets all the bad press in the gardening literature, and deservedly so.

Another beetle which I spotted the same day was red milkweed beetle. They were quite numerous on the milkweed in the garden in front of the Butterfly House. They’re long-horned beetles. They were mating.

Mating red milkweed beetles.

When the common milkweed is about three feet tall, the red beetle with black spots start showing up on the leaves and flower buds of the plant. And, they always seem to be mating. Then, they quickly disappear, not to be seen again till the following year.

Red milkweed beetle. Note toxic latex dripping from leaf and small yellow insect with black legs near bottom left of image (oleander aphid).

Red milkweed beetles eat milkweed. But you don’t hear many people complaining about these beetles eating all their plants. After all, milkweed by its very name is a weed, a toxic weed at that. But red milkweed beetles are just one of many insects who’ve made milkweed their plant of plants. Milkweed leaf beetle, large milkweed bugs, small milkweed bugs, oleander aphids, milkweed tussock moth, and of course everybody’s favorite, monarch butterfly are all milkweed specialists. All of these insects wear bright orange, red or yellow as a message to would be predators, “Don’t eat me, I’m toxic.”

Milkweed leaf beetle.
Large milkweed bug.
Oleander aphids.
Monarch butterfly.

I’m especially fond of milkweed in all it’s variations for all of the reasons above, it attracts many kinds of insects, whether to the leaves to munch on, or the flowers to nectar on. And, many people grow milkweed specifically to attract monarch butterflies.

Common milkweed flowers, buds, and leaves.

Monarch butterflies couldn’t live without it.

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