Attracting Butterflies: Common Buckeye

Despite the name, the Common Buckeye is anything but ordinary. The eyespots make this brown butterfly a real attention-getter!

A surprising number of species include the word “common” in their name, though the species itself is anything but ordinary. One good example is the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia). The “common” in its name helps to distinguish it from the similar-looking Tropical Buckeye (Junonia everete) and Mangrove Buckeye (Junonia genoveva). At first glance, this medium-sized butterfly may seem brown and commonplace, but a second look will bring the brilliant eyespots and orange accents to your attention.

Common Buckeye

Common Buckeyes are found across nearly all of the U.S. and southern Canada at some point in the year. In southern regions, they may be more common during the cooler seasons, when their host plants are more readily available. Here in Tampa, Florida, I usually see Common Buckeyes up through late June or early July, after which the population moves north to find a better crop of host plants for their caterpillars. (Folks in Florida may also see Mangrove Buckeyes, while those in the Southwest may see Tropical Buckeyes. Click the links to learn more about each.)

Common Buckeye
Top: Common Buckeye eggs on plantain; Bottom: Common Buckeye caterpillars

The Common Buckeye lays its eggs on plants in the Plantago, Acanthus, and Antirrhinim families. This includes toadflax, broadleaf plantain (a common “weed” found in lawns), wild petunia (different from the standard non-native petunia usually sold at garden centers; look for the genus name Ruellia to find the right varieties), and snapdragons. The eggs are small and green, laid singly but often with many close together, as shown in the photo. The caterpillars are dark with white, blue, and orange markings, and short stiff spikes that are harmless to humans but deter predators like lizards and birds.

Common Buckeye Profile

While Common Buckeyes don’t exactly migrate en masse like monarchs, they do shift their population center throughout the year. People further north may just have started seeing these butterflies in the last few weeks, as the last populations finally made their way to the northern end of the range. Most of these butterflies will begin to shift back south for the winter, but they won’t fly in large groups like monarchs. Their population will just slowly start to focus itself further south a bit at a time. You can help them thrive in the late summer and fall months by keeping plenty of nectar flowers in your garden. (They especially love the late-season asters.)

Need ideas for late-summer and fall nectar flowers? Click here!

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.