Butterfly Guide: The Common Buckeye Butterfly

The Common buckeye, or Buckeye butterfly, is a butterfly that lives in Southern US, Mexico, and Canada, and is unique for "tasting" its food by using its feet in a process called " drumming."

Common Buckeye Butterfly Species Summary

Scientific NameJunonia coenia
Family NameNymphalidae
HabitatGardens, fields, bare ground, areas with low vegetation, and roadsides
RangeMexico, United States. and Canada
Host PlantsThey have a variety of host plants, but they especially favor plantains
Butterfly DescriptionMedium-sized butterfly with brown wings with specks of blue, orange, white, magenta, and black
Caterpillar DescriptionThe larvae have spines throughout their red and orange bodies

What color is the common buckeye?

Common buckeye
Common buckeye

Common buckeye butterfly’s wings have different shades of brown with faint hints of magenta, white, black, orange, and blue. Sometimes, the forewings and the hindwings display a share of blue and green overtones. The average wingspan of the Common buckeye butterfly ranges from two to 2.5 inches.

The postmedian parts of the forewings have white bands surrounding the two spots. Their forewings have orange bars on the proximal sides, while the distal parts have eyespots (the larger one near the caudal side while the smaller one is along the upper part).

As for the hindwings, they are also brown with black and white margins. These have orange bands that mostly fill the edges of the wings.

Why is it Called a Buckeye Butterfly?

Horse chestnut
Horse chestnut

The eyespots on these butterflies resemble the shoots of the buckeye (also known as horse chestnut), a type of tree that mostly thrives in North America and Eurasia. Like the eyespots on these butterflies, the buckeye shoots are round with a singular marking at the center — somewhat resembling a large eye.

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Caterpillar Physical Description

Common Buckeye Butterfly Caterpillar
Common Buckeye Butterfly Caterpillar

The instars’ heads are red and orange with a spine on each side, while their faces have black markings. They typically have spines that course through the entire thorax, about 7 for each segment of their bodies. 

Smaller branches emerge from each dorsal spine. These are usually bluish-silver in color. On the ventral side, there are 2 additional white spines.

The Common buckeye caterpillar has a predominantly black thorax. It has light-colored spots that pepper the entirety of the black surface, with colors consisting of at least 2 of the following combinations:

  • Brown
  • Gray
  • White
  • Beige

The ventral sides of their bodies are usually brown. On the other hand, the sides of their bodies have red and orange spots that may be accompanied by white marks.

As the caterpillar grows, the spines become less pronounced. Common buckeye caterpillars can grow as long as 1.5 inches once they reach maturity.

How long does a common buckeye live?

Egg Stage4 to 14 days
Caterpillar Stage14 to 28 days
Chrysalis Stage7 to 14 days
Butterfly Stage6 to 20 days

Ideal Habitat

The Common buckeye butterflies prefer open and sunny areas. You can notice this butterfly species in the following:

  • Gardens
  • Areas with low vegetation
  • Fields
  • Roadsides 

Where do common buckeye butterflies lay their eggs?

The Common buckeye caterpillars can feed on a variety of food plants, including many plantain species:

  • Greater Plantain (Plantago major)
  • Plantain (Plantago spp.)
  • False Foxglove (Agalinis spp.)
  • Narrowleaf Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
  • Toadflax (Linaria spp.)
  • Vervain (Verbena)
  • Mexican Petunia (Ruellia spp.)
  • Snapdragon (Antirrhinum)

What does the common buckeye butterfly eat?

The Common buckeye species prefer red and orange flowers. Aside from these, the butterflies feed on the nectar of the following plants:

  • Peppermint
  • Tickseed
  • Sunflower
  • Chickory
  • Dogbane
  • Aster
  • Knapweed
  • Gumweed

The Common buckeye butterflies also extract water from mud puddles. They get nutrients from the puddles of water that they eventually use during the breeding season.

Usual Behavior

Adult butterflies prefer visiting red flowers while in the yellow stage of growth. This behavior suggests associative learning abilities. When they notice the flowers are at the yellow stage, they will visit them, as they offer higher pollen levels.

Caterpillars feed in isolation and lack group dynamics. When they come across other instars of the same species, they tend to ignore them and just go the opposite way when they are about to feed on the same leaf.

Common buckeye caterpillars rarely turn aggressive towards each other. Female butterflies lay eggs singly.

What is Buckeye Caterpillar Drumming?

A female Common buckeye butterfly about to lay eggs on host plants will resort to drumming to determine the best location. This method will help pierce through the outer protective layers of the plant and check for the plant’s chemical composition and if this is a fitting spot for oviposition.

What is the common buckeye’s main predator?

The Common buckeye butterfly has numerous natural enemies, such as:

  • Ants
  • Birds
  • Small mammals
  • Wasps

Densovirus is also a common threat. While butterflies can’t do much to fight it off, they use their distinct eyespots to fend off the first four predators.

Is the Buckeye Caterpillar Poisonous?

Because larvae have limited mobility, they usually use chemical defense mechanisms to protect themselves from predators. They coat their bodies with substances that will make them unappealing.

When a predator attempts to eat them, the substance will leave a bad taste in their mouths, and they will spit them out. If they still insist on eating the larvae, they will get an upset stomach from doing so.

Where can you find common buckeyes?

Common buckeyes are found across nearly all areas in North America — southern Canada and the southern United States, especially Florida. They are also common in Mexico. In southern regions, they may be more common during cooler seasons when their host plants are blooming.

Do Buckeye Butterflies Migrate?

While these butterflies don’t migrate massively like Monarchs, they shift their range. Most Common buckeyes will begin to move south for the winter. Once they settle in southern Canada and peninsular Florida, the adult butterflies will begin to overwinter.

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