A Butterfly Alights on the Head of a Snake - Observation of the Week, 6/8/21

Our Observation of the Day is this odd couple of a Gorgone Checkerspot (Chlosyne gorgone) and a Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)! Seen in the United States by @rollingplainst.

Teresa M (rollingplainst) credits her parents for her twin loves of nature and photography. “My father introduced me to photography as a teen, and my first camera was a Polaroid Instant Camera!

He was also keenly interested in reptiles and amphibians, and worked for a time in the Fort Worth Zoo Herpetarium. I was always very interested in birds and butterflies, but through him [I] also gained an interest in reptiles and amphibians.

So a few weeks ago, when returning from running some errands, she let her dog out into the dogyard “and she alerted us to the snake’s presence.

Glancing out the window, I recognized the eastern hognose snake (I had observed one last year as well). The [snake] was already in display mode when I stepped out with my camera (after getting the dog back inside), spreading the skin around its head and neck...

While trying different angles without getting too close (I didn’t want the snake to go into playing dead mode), the gorgone checkerspot landed on the snake’s head!  In fact, it stayed there for a minute or two, allowing me to get a few different angles. After a few more minutes, the butterfly moved on and I went back inside and allowed the snake to leave in its own time. Beautiful creature – I love to see these!

While butterflies are known to obtain salt by drinking the tears of turtles or alligators (or even manure and mud), it’s unlikely this checkerspot is sucking up much here as snakes don’t exude discharge from their eyes. @nlblock, iNat’s top butterfly identifier, brought this observation to my attention and when I asked him what might be going on here, said “[I’m] not sure! It's got its proboscis out like it's probing for minerals, which is what they might do on sweaty mammals, but I'm not sure what it would find on the snake.”

As for the butterfly’s reptilian substrate: eastern hognose snakes feed exclusively on amphibians so the insect is in no danger here. Adults average around 71 cm (28 in) in length and the species ranges throughout much of the eastern United States and into southern Canada. While they’re not dangerous to humans, eastern hognose snakes do secrete some amphibian-specific venom from their rear fangs, which might cause localized swelling if a person is bitten by one. Their little “hognose” snout aids in digging.

“After a long career in education, which left little time to pursue [my interests in nature and photography], I retired,” says Teresa (above). She and her husband moved to the country and she’s currently studying their 14 acres of sandy habitat in the Rolling Plains Ecoregion of Texas where they are also

trying to restore as much of the native habitat as we can, with particular focus on the Northern Bobwhite, pollinators, and native grasses/forbs. I’m thrilled to be able to have the time to return to my love of nature and explore the biodiversity around me. At the same time, I get to hone my very amateur photography skills, a hobby I really love!

She started using iNaturalist last September and is particularly keen that iNat data being available for research. Last year, Texas Parks and Wildlife reached out to her through their Texas Nature Trackers program as they’re studying the distribution of Northern Bobwhites.

The iNaturalist site and community have been wonderful about helping me expand my identification skills and I am more aware of regional populations than I was before. It’s exciting to find a new organism I have not seen before, and to learn about its habits and interactions with the environment and other species. The access to experts has been wonderful, as some of my identification learning is just starting (e.g. native plants), while I am also a little rusty in other areas – well, maybe a lot ! How animals interact with their environment and other species is very interesting to me, and I enjoy trying to capture these interactions as they occur.

- Like Teresa said, hognose snakes are well known to play dead.

- @nlblock’s giraffe weevil was an Observation of the Week over five years ago!

Posted by tiwane tiwane, June 09, 2021 04:58


A snake with a butterfly, nice shot (and luckily the little butterfly wasn't eaten).

Posted by muhmalikali 5 months ago (Flag)

Nice shot Teresa.

Posted by fredmachado 5 months ago (Flag)

So awesome! Congrats, @rollingplainst!

Posted by nlblock 5 months ago (Flag)

Two very different kinds of beauty captured in one great photo! Nicely done, @rollingplainst :D

Posted by weecorbie 5 months ago (Flag)

Your post captures your love of these natural interactions!Thank you!

Posted by lilithohlson 5 months ago (Flag)

Wonderful post! Great observation, @rollingplainst ! :)

Posted by sambiology 5 months ago (Flag)

Very nice shot

Posted by karimhaddad 5 months ago (Flag)

I like to think the butterfly is striking what it believes to be a menacing pose, just like that poser snake. Great photo!

Posted by sullivanribbit 5 months ago (Flag)

Amazing and unique shot, well done!

Posted by toddburrows 5 months ago (Flag)

Excellent - well done. It is wonderful when talent and opportunity intersect!

Posted by jdctgp 5 months ago (Flag)

nice shot

Posted by theabilenenaturalist 5 months ago (Flag)

Great photo!!! And so very wonderful to read of your conservation efforts - we need more people like you all around our poor damaged world.

Posted by roserobin 5 months ago (Flag)

Such a fantastic observation! Thank you!

Posted by susanhewitt 5 months ago (Flag)

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