Crawlies with Cri – Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia)

Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia)

This week we are both revisiting our featured flitter and meeting them for the first time. How are we going to pull off that neat trick? Strap yourselves in! This is a fun one!
Now, this week’s crawly is a buckeye butterfly; that hasn’t changed.
The last time I saw one was 2014 and I wrote briefly about it in a Crawlies column as a common buckeye (Junonia coenia).
When I found the pictured buckeye in 2022 it was so vibrant in comparison, I double checked my “buckeye” ID because it just looked so different, all fresh and vibrantly colored.
Good thing I did!
The pictured butterfly (as well as the one in the 2014 column) is a grey buckeye (Junonia grisea).
When I identified the 2022 beauty, I was baffled that I’d misidentified the 2014 buckeye. There’s only one species in Oregon and that’s the grey.
As it turns out, I was correct in 2014 and 2022.
But, how?
Some fun things happened in the eight years in between my buckeye finds.
In 2014 it was thought the grey was a subspecies of the common.
In 2018 University of Manitoba entomologist Dr. Jeffrey Marcus and his graduate student Melanie Lalonde discovered that the grey is their own species through extensive observation, collection and DNA testing. It was the first new species “discovered” in North America since 2016 – so a big deal.
Now the West Coast has our very own species of buckeye – and for once they didn’t name it after California as they are wont to do with every other West Coast species.
So, now, let’s meet the grey buckeye.
First, finding one in our area will take some luck. There’s a reason it was eight years in between my sightings. There aren’t a lot of them here. There are 71 recorded sightings on iNaturalist, so they are around.
As you can see by the photo, they are much easier to see when their wings are open. When their wings are closed, they all but disappear. When they open their wings and flash those namesake eye spots they stand out.
Those amazing eye spots serve as predator deterrents; the goal is to at least startle and at best outright frighten off a potential predator.
Buckeyes are migratory butterflies, expanding their range northward each year. Some years they go further north than others. Possibly our extended and rain-filled spring brought them into our area this year, especially with more severe drought down in California.
So this is a good year to be on the lookout. Because they migrate, they will be around for a while. They’ve been seen in Oregon as late as October.
They like a wide variety of habitats as long as they are open and sunny landscapes. Sites you may spot one include: old fields, roadsides, utility corridors, gardens, parks, yards, fallow agricultural land, scrubs, pine savannas and weedlots.
Buckeye fly low to the ground and erratically. They do tend to spook if approached, but with patience you can get a good look at one.