October 13, 2023
Buckeye butterfly’s beautiful eyespots are unforgettable


By Mary Reid Barrow, Photos by Terri Gorman

Once you’ve seen a common buckeye butterfly, you will never forget it, that is, as long as you are seeing the beauty with its colorful wings open.

A buckeye is unforgettable because of its stunning eyespots in blues, reds, and yellows on an orangey-brown background. There are four eyespots, two big ones and two little ones, on each side of the wings.

But when the buckeye folds its wings, it looks like a commonplace little thing, because the eyespots don’t show up on its brownish underwings.

Buckeyes are busy butterflies, as LRNow Pearl Home Coordinator Terri Gorman found out.  A pair was darting around, from flower to flower, in her North End pollinator garden recently.

“I chased them around with my camera,” Terri said.  “It was a good thing they loved feeding on the helianthus and the asters, which slowed them down.

“I watched them for over an hour,” she added. “I think they are prettier than monarchs.”

Buckeyes are seen across the southeastern United States. They have several host plants, false foxglove, toadflax, and plantain among them. We see more this time of year because, like monarchs, buckeyes are migratory, and they are moving south with the nor’easters.

They just don’t travel in great numbers like the monarchs do, said Princess Anne Middle School teacher Maurice Cullen, who is a butterfly and moth expert, past president of the Butterfly Society of Virginia and founder the Virginia Beach Middle School butterfly garden.

The buckeye, its eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises cannot live through freezing temperatures, he explained.

“Their migration is not really noticeable the way the monarch’s is, and they don’t congregate that I know of,” Maurice added. “They migrate to Florida and probably other Deep South states.”

Buckeyes were so named because their eyespots are reminiscent of buckeye nuts that grow on buckeye trees. Those nuts are a handsome brown with a distinctive beige patch or “eye”.  The buckeye is the state tree of Ohio and the name of Ohio State athletic teams.

You also might be familiar with buckeye candy—peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate with the peanut butter “eye” showing.

In actuality, the fun stories associated with the buckeye’s eyespots say nothing about why the butterfly has them.  Its eyespots are all about scaring off predators. “My what big eyes you have!”



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