Bears and Butterflies

Where do butterflies spend the night?

These 10 (or more) Zebra Longwing Butterflies (Heliconius charitonius) congregate every night on a dead branch of a large live oak tree in something resembling a butterfly hive.

This evidence of congregate over-nighting begs the question, why?

Presumably there is safety in numbers. It is far less likely that a single butterfly will fall to a predator when there are many together. Another possible reason for this behavior is that the butterflies together resemble something like a large fungi growing on the dead branch, rather than a group of individual butterflies, thus also protecting them from predators. Finally, it could be that they are very social insects (less likely). This family of butterflies is the only butterfly known to exhibit this type of congregate behavior.

Click on any of these images for a larger view.

In some of the images I count 12 or more tightly clustered Zebra Longwings. Count heads rather than wings as they are packed in tightly.

The Zebra Longwing is also referred to as the Zebra Heliconian and it is the State Butterfly of Florida.

In general, butterflies spend the night or periods of inclement weather perched on the underside of leaves or they crawl deep between blades of grass or into crevices in rocks to find shelter and sleep. We rarely have bad weather at this latitude in winter (and there has been no weather to speak of since I discovered this hive-colony) so this behavior is certainly a more complex evolution of an anti-predation strategy.

Another recent visitor that needs no strategy to avoid predators is this very large Florida Black Bear (Ursus americanus floridanus). I estimate that this young bear is about 7-feet (2+ meters) tall and weighs around 600 pounds or more (275 kilograms). He easily smashed our fence which is reinforced with steel wire and screws.

The bowl by the bear's foot is 12-inches in diameter. Note the difference in the size of the bear with the elephant sculpture and bowl and the raccoons in the image below adjacent to the same bowls and sculpture. The bear is huge. He is also very inquisitive sticking his nose into open windows and pulling down bird feeders, etcetera.

These tiny raccoons are too young to be away from their burrow and will likely not survive. This image was the last I made with all 3 babies (one is by the white column and one is adjacent to its mother on right). The last I saw them there were only 2 pups.

It is always difficult to make photos through the windows with screens, solar film, and at night. While these photos are blurry they do give some indication of the size of this bear.

The bear was face-to-face with me as I attempted to make some decent images. I do not dare go outside when I know bear is there, as even though they are very gentle and curious creatures one could be hurt accidentally.

I wasn't sure how this bear, as large as he is, managed to get over the fence. The next day I found the smashed fence with stripped screws and bent steel wire. The bear literally walked over the fence, taking the fence down with him.

I had the windows cracked to let in some fresh air and he stuck his giant nose in to take a sniff.

I grabbed the iPhone to make these photos as my cameras weren't handy when I saw the tiny raccoons at the cat food bowl.

Despite the fact that we live on the border of a large nature preserve these raccoon's survival is unlikely. They are subject to persecution by humans, cars, and natural predators. Their life expectancy is very short in semi-urban areas.

The mother raccoon has been coming around for a couple years. She is on her own with the pups, the father has nothing to do with raising the pups.

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