Toshimi Kristof took this June photo in Bear Valley Springs of a Variable Checkerspot butterfly as it was nectar-feeding on California Buckwheat flowers.
Also known as a Chalcedon Checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona), this attractive butterfly can be found in May and June in the Tehachapi Mountains. They can sometimes be found in abundance as they feed on blooming wildflowers like California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) or the small native tree known as California Buckeye (Aesculus californica).
Variable Checkerspots appear mostly black on their upper side of their wings, with many white or cream-colored spots, as well as reddish orange highlights along the edges of their wings. Their undersides, as seen in this photo, appear mostly white and orange, and they have yellowish gold antennae.
The caterpillars or larval stage of Variable Checkerspots have a color scheme reminiscent of the adults, being black or charcoal colored with small white and rusty orange spots. The caterpillars have rows of soft bristles along their bodies.
In our area, Variable Checkerspot larvae often feed on the leaves of Indian Paintbrush species in the Castilleja genus. If you're hiking in spring and see the red blossoms of Indian Paintbrush in flower, examine the plants closely for signs of butterfly caterpillars.
Variable Checkerspot females lay their eggs in a cluster, and when the eggs hatch and the tiny caterpillars emerge, they form a kind of web-like tent. They often overwinter in these tents. Ed Sampson of the Mourning Cloak Ranch and Botanical Garden used to gather a few of these each year in the hills and bring them to the Mourning Cloak, where they would be fed and then pupate, emerging as beautiful butterflies that would feed on the thousands of flowering plants in the gardens.
The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for butterfly is ayataniizi, pronounced aye-yah-tah-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: firstname.lastname@example.org.