Do you feel like you are being watched by this butterfly? The false eyespots are just one of the neat characteristics of the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia). Belonging to the Nymphalidae family, otherwise known as the brush-footed butterflies, the Buckeye is related to Monarchs, Painted Ladies, and Red Admirals. The family is aptly named due to the exhibited trait of the majority of the Nymphalidae butterflies using only four walking legs, with the front two legs being modified as tiny, brush-like appendages. While it may appear that these butterflies have only four legs, they actually do have six legs just like other insects.
The Common Buckeye is one of the easier butterflies to identify, due to its distinct markings and habit of resting with its wings spread out for display. Spanning only 4-6 cm, the striking brown wings feature a white band on each forewing, orange highlight patterns, and two eyespots on each hindwing. The unique eyespots not only accredit to the butterfly’s name, but also play a key role in defense. If a predator is not deterred by being starred at by the false eyes and goes in for a bite, the strategically placed eyespots will cause the predator to target the hind wing instead of the actual head. While butterflies commonly experience tattered wings as they wear down through use, an amazing fact about the Buckeye is that it is able to function normally even with up to two-thirds of its wings missing.
Junonia coenia is commonly found throughout the southern half and eastern side of the United States. Three generations, called broods, can typically be observed in Iowa from May to October. Enjoying open, sunny areas with low vegetation makes parks, roadsides, fields, and gardens excellent habitats. While the adult drinks nectar from a variety of flowers, the caterpillars favor host plants in the snapdragon genus (Antirrhinum), toadflax (Linaria), plantains (Plantago), and wild petunia (Ruellia). However, you won’t likely find these butterflies around Iowa during the winter because, like their monarch relatives, they cannot survive freezing temperatures and must migrate south for the winter before returning the following spring.
In addition to the range of tropical butterfly species from six different continents, the Common Buckeye is just one example of an Iowa native species that can frequently be found in flight inside the Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing, where you can experience the thrilling enjoyment of nearly 800 butterflies. Visit Reiman Gardens to see if you can “spot” one of these stunning Common Buckeyes or another one of their brush-footed relatives.