Natural Sightings #553 - Variable Checkerspot .JPG

A Variable Checkerspot butterfly in Bear Valley Springs.

Toshimi Kristof took this photo earlier in the year of a Variable Checkerspot (Euphydras chalcedona) butterfly in Bear Valley Springs as it nectar-fed on a California Buckwheat blossom.

Also known as Chalcedon Checkerspots, these attractive, medium-sized butterflies are typically seen from May through July in the Tehachapi Mountains. They often use Indian Paintbrushes (Castilleja sps.) as their larval host plants. The female Variable Checkerspots lay their eggs on Paintbrush or other plants, and tiny dark caterpillars with white and orange lengthwise markings hatch out and start nibbling on the foliage.

The undersides of an adult Checkerspot butterfly's wings are mostly orange with white and black highlights, while the uppersides are mostly black with white and orange highlights.

As the common name suggests, this species of Checkerspot is quite variable, and the proportion of black to orange markings can change considerably from one geographic area to another.

Like most insects that advertise themselves with red or orange, Checkerspots do not taste good to predators. From the plants they eat, the caterpillars pick up bitter chemicals called iridoid glycosides. The plants produce this to discourage herbivory, or the munching of their leaves by vertebrates, and the caterpillars are able to absorb and retain these defensive compounds so that they too are unpalatable. This protective bitterness is carried over to the adult butterflies.

Variable Checkerspots nectar-feed on a wide variety of wildflowers, and can sometimes be found in large numbers feeding on the long candle-like white blossoms of our native California Buckeye trees found in the hills.

The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for butterfly is ayaataniizi, pronounced aye-ya-ta-NEE-zi.

NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: editorial@tehachapinews.com.