Speaking of Brazil

A Brazilian Skipper atop a Rose of Sharon blossom.

Brazilian Skippers are butterflies. They are large grass skippers. They’re nearly the size of a Sliver-spotted Skipper (about a 2 inch wingspan). They don’t sit still for long so getting a photo is sometimes difficult. I had help with the above photo.

Brazilian Skippers are essentially Central and South American butterflies although they have become established in South Florida and Texas. They’re often seen in the other Gulf States as well as coastal North and South Carolina. They breed in North Carolina but their presence here is due almost entirely to the plantings of Canna. In fact, their presence in North America in general is due to Canna.

You’ve probably seen Cannas before, though you may not be aware of it. Canna is a tall herbaceuos tropical plant. Most varieties that I’m familiar with have large red flowers atop their large, thick green or sometimes reddish leaves, but there are many varieties. They are often planted outside of office buildings, country clubs, botanical gardens, and even in home gardens, especially in, but not limited to, the South.

Canna outside of Gate 3 here at the Museum (Butterfly House in rear).
Bright red flowers are typical.

Canna too, is essentially a tropical plant from Central and South America. But what’s the connection between cannas and the Brazilian Skipper? Well, the butterfly uses cannas as a host plant. In other words, the butterfly lays eggs on the plant and the caterpillars that hatch from the eggs eat the leaves of the plant. Canna was a very popular landscaping plant at the beginning of the 1900s, and still is. Some of the plants that were originally brought up from the tropics and planted here in North America had eggs or caterpillars on them. Once here, the plants did well, as did the caterpillars and butterflies, becoming part of the landscape.

This backlit shot reveals the three in-line white transluscent spots on the hindwing that are characterisitic of this species.

Here in North Carolina, Brazilian Skippers are considered rare. But wherever Canna is planted you may also find the butterfly. Butterflies moving north from areas where they are well established, like Florida, find the plants, lay eggs on them and the result is fresh Brazilian Skippers.

If the butterflies are so rare, how did I get the photos? All of the photos of the skipper that you see here are thanks to Richard Stickney of the Butterfly House. I took the photos, but it was because of Richard that I was able to get close enough to the butterflies to do so.

The butterflies in the photos were collected as caterpillars by Richard and placed on the Cannas that are growing inside of the Pavilion. The Pavilion is where the native lepidoteran species are housed here at the Museum and is behind the Consortium which houses the large and flashy tropical species. Thanks Richard.

This Brazilian is resting on a Canna leave.
Another shot from a different angle.

North Carolina has an incredible variety of butterfly species.  The Brazilian Skipper is just one of those species. According to the “The Butterflies of North Carolina” there have been 175 species recorded in the state, everything from the Least Skipper to the Giant Swallowtail. Most of our native species are just as wonderful, exotic, and beautiful as their tropical counterparts. Get out and have a look around, there are many species active in the fall.

2 responses to Speaking of Brazil

  1. Great post, Greg! It’s been fun tracking these unusual visitors this summer. They probably made it here due to the mild winter and hot summer; they’re not normally found here. One small correction: “Canna” is the singular plant name; “Cannas” is plural.

    • Greg Dodge says:

      Thanks again, Richard.
      I think I got all of the Canna/Cannas errors corrected.

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