When I took our dog out for a brief walk a little after noon December 14, the last thing I thought I would see is a butterfly. Earlier in the month on successive nights overnight temperatures dropped into the 20s. For all practical purposes, this ended our 2020 Butterfly Season. However, as I watched Sassy take care of business, the sight of a medium-sized butterfly fluttering about a large camellia bush caught my eye.
At first, I thought I was looking at a gulf fritillary. I sometimes see a few of these butterflies after a frost. However, when the butterfly landed, I was amazed when it turned out to be a question mark. Wow, what a surprise; it was my first question mark of the year. This was due, in large part to my having sheltered in place throughout the spring and summer and not butterflying away from my little corner of the world.
Consequently, the question mark is one of a handful of butterflies that is capable of wintering as an adult in Georgia. When it gets extremely cold adult question marks roost in holes in a tree, behind shutters or any number of other protected locations. Then when temperatures get warm enough for them to fly again they take to the air.
The air temperature when I saw this beautiful butterfly was 58˚F. Its rapid flight told me its body temperature was high enough to permit it to fly normally. However, since the butterfly was obviously looking for a suitable place to bask to further warm its flight muscles in the afternoon sun.
The lack of nectar plants poses no problem for this species as it feeds on plant juices, rotting fruit, dung, and carrion.
Who would have thought that my early Christmas present did not come in the form of a package wrapped in red and white? Instead, it proved to be a gossamer-winged flying jewel borne on orange and black jagged-edged wings trimmed in lavender.
I must admit that, for a brief period, I lost track of our little dog as I gazed upon this unexpected treat. Eventually, I was reminded of the reason I had gone outside in the first place when my dog barked to let me know she was ready to go back into the house. After I brought the dog back inside I quickly returned for a another look at the late season gift only to find it had flown off. However, I was left with a mental image I will long remember.
Keep your eyes peeled, you too may receive an early Christmas present. If you do, and it proves to be a question mark, I am sure you will not be disappointed.