Medium-sized, long-winged butterfly with a wingspan up to 3-3/4 inches. The upperside of the wings is bright orange with black markings; three black-ringed white spots are present at the front edge of each forewing. The underside of the wings is brownish, with long silver spots. The hindwing has a black chainlike band at the outer margin. Females are larger and darker than males, and have more markings. The caterpillar has an orange head with black patches and two black horns on the top. The slender body is orange, with green stripes on the sides and rows of long, black branched spines. The odd-shaped chrysalis is brown and resembles a dead leaf.
Southern United States, west to California; migrates north to New Jersey and the Midwest; West Indies, Mexico, Central America and South America.
Distribution and Abundance in Florida:
Adults present all year in Florida; mature larvae present all year in South Florida. Northern populations migrate into North Florida during the late summer and fall; adults overwinter.
Most open upland habitats, gardens, and open, disturbed sites.
Three or more broods per year. The yellow eggs are laid singly on many parts of host plants, especially new growth. Females will reject plants on which eggs have already been laid. Eggs also may be laid on nearby plants to avoid ant predators.
Ant predators eat both eggs and young larvae; they are attracted by the nectar glands on the leaves of the host plants. Adult butterflies visit the same flowers in a linear sequence during the day and also on subsequent days. Caterpillars may be carnivorous.
Native larval host plants include the cultivated shrubs limber caper (Cynophalia flexuosa) and saltwort (Batis maritima), the wildflower coastal searocket (Cakile lanceolata) and the weedy poor-man's-pepper (Lepidium virginicum). Native nectar plants include the cultivated tree black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), the cultivated shrubs baycedar (Suriana maritima), Christmasberry (Lycium carolinianum), Florida Keys blackbead (Pithecellobium keyense), green sea-oxeye-daisy (Borrichia arborescens), shiny-leaved wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa), silver sea-oxeye-daisy (Borrichia frutescens), Spanish-bayonet (Yucca aloifolia) and wild-sage (Lantana involucrata), the cultivated wildflowers blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), narrowleaf yellowtops (Flaveria linearis), scorpionstail (Heliotropium angiospermum) and yellow joyweed (Alternanthera flavescens), the cultivated vine yellowroot (Morinda royoc) and the weedy Spanish-needles (Bidens alba var. radiataCapraria biflora) and seaside heliotrope (Heliotropium curassavicum).