Blue Butterflys and Red Digger Wasps

After a cloudy and breezy start, the day brightened into a warm sunny day. At about 4pm I decided to take a walk at the nature reserve before it got dark.

Blue Moth at Long Key

As I started my walk through the tropical hardwood hammock, this beautiful iridescent blue moth butterfly fluttered around my head and landed on a leaf right next to me. He then patiently sat still while I flustered with my camera and managed to get a few shots. I have searched the internet for his name but as yet he is unidentified – anyone an expert on Florida Keys moths? (Yes, Doug is – see below).

As I made my way along the sandy path (the whole of the island was a coral reef many thousands of years ago) I came across an insect that I had filmed the day before.

Red Digging Wasp, Long Key

As you can see above, this red wasp (again I don’t know it’s name, but I think it is a type of digger wasp) is sat outside his hole. He is actually kicking sand into the hole to fill it in.

From what I can make out these wasps dig a hole, lay an egg, capture a live spider, paralyse it, put it in the hole and bury it. The young wasps then feed on the fresh spider when they hatch… a bit gruesome but fascinating to watch.

Dead Tree on Beach, Long Key

By the time I got to the end of the trail the sun was starting to set and I just managed to get a picture of this dead tree on the beach. A lot of the trees were killed by hurricane Wilma a couple of years ago (as we nearly were!). Although normally salt-water tolerant, they can’t take a constant battering. However, this one was just too gorgeous not to photograph.


Since I wrote this post I’ve found out from Doug at Blue-Grey (thanks so much for the info Doug) that the “moth” is in fact a “butterfly” – called a Mangrove Skipper. About 10cm across and lives on mangrove bushes with it’s brown female mate. The males are very territorial and chase off any other male interlopers. The eggs are laid on the mangrove leaves and live off them once hatched. No wonder I saw it perched on a mangrove leaf!


~ by Jane on February 1, 2008.

13 Responses to “Blue Butterflys and Red Digger Wasps”

  1. Pretty sure its a Mangrove Skipper (Phocides pigmalion) Jane.
    I’ll dig out a link for you when I get a moment…

  2. What incredible colours – blue (too tame a word!) moth on yellow leaf.

    That dead tree is a great collection of shapes.

  3. Yes. I think it IS a male Mangrove Skipper (butterfly, not moth), which is part of the “spreadwing skippers”.
    Your butterfly exists ONLY on coastal Florida in the USA and lives on Red Mangroves.
    Wonderful stuff Jane.
    I’m sulking here!!!

    Here’s a link which might be of interest to you whilst you’re out there….

    Have fun!

  4. Doug. Thanks so much for finding out the “moths” name…. errr “butterfly”! It comes to something when you have to ask your friends in England to tell you what insect you have seen in Florida! The Mangrove Skipper was in fact sitting on a red mangrove… very apt! Obviously waiting for a mate to come along. Thanks also for the link, that should come in handy while I’m here.

  5. Dragonstar. Well my moth turns out to be a butterfly… but yes it was a beautiful blue. A really unreal blue. I’ve only ever seen it before on other butterflies and kingfishers. Like gold leaf – but blue! I’ve never managed to catch it on film before, so I was quite chuffed with the photograph when I looked at it later. Thanks for popping by. Jane

  6. No worries Jane!
    I wouldn’t take my word for it though! I’m very probably wrong.
    I’m hardly a “lepidopterist”!

  7. How big was it Jane? – it is so like something that Allen brought back from his 1960s trips (sadly mounted and framed which was of course “acceptable” in those days. It’s packed away at the moment but I’ll show you next time you come over.

  8. Hilly. It had about a 10cm wingspan. I’d love to see Allen’s collection. I was talking to someone yesterday who spent their honeymoon in the Florida Keys 51 years ago… a very different place then I expect.

  9. Doug. I’ve looked it up and compared pictures, and it is a Mangrove Skipper. Thanks for the tip-off! I saw some great spiders today… you’d be in your element!

  10. I’m interested in the red wasp. Was it alone or were there lots of them (20-50) flying around the immediate area? I live in SW Florida and I’m trying to put a name to that what I see on the barrier islands locally.

    Nice web site our got here!


  11. Hi Brian. There were quite a few burrows nearby in the compacted sand (about 5 in total), I wouldn’t say there were as many as 20-50 flying around… but that may just have been due to the area I was in. Could they be Sphex ichneumoneus? I’m not really up on digger wasps in the USA…

  12. it is hard to tell what kind of wasp it is without a profile view. most likely it is a sphex jamaicensis which is only found in the US in S. Florida. Usually they nest in aggregations of 20-40 individuals as recorded in ‘sphecid wasps of the world’. It can also be a great golden digger wasp also the genus sphex.

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