Sunday, July 18, 2010

Clouded Sulphur Butterflies

Clouded Sulphurs, Colias philodice, are one of the most common butterflies in Ohio and can be seen in practically any open area. They are also kind of jumpy when approached and I’ve had a lot of trouble getting a descent picture of this species. My luck changed yesterday when I got this shot of a Clouded Sulphur nectaring on Butterfly Weed.

While I was viewing the first photo to see if it was at all in focus, a second individual landed on the same milkweed plant. This is a white color morph of the same species. It’s not uncommon for female Clouded Sulphurs to be very light yellow or completely white. How very fortunate to get identifiable shots of both colors.

Then my luck got even better. Sulphurs rarely open their wings while sitting, so it’s really difficult to get shots of the upper wing. The yellow individual suddenly began a courtship display in front of the female. He hovered and she responded by opening her wings and raising her abdomen. Males of this species have a solid black border along the outside of the wings, while females have a series of spots within the black border of the front wing.

Next came a bouncing display by the male. While hovering, he would rise several inches and then drop suddenly almost on top of the female’s head. The female produced several quivers and wing flaps during this part of the display.

Suddenly, the male shot into the air. The female was quick to follow and they began performing a tight circling maneuver that made them appear as a load of laundry tumbling in the drier. As quickly as it began, it was over and the two broke apart and headed in separate directions.

The male came back to the Butterfly Weed and resumed drinking nectar. I guess something just wasn’t right for the two to mate. Maybe the whole thing was performed just so I could get a few pictures.


  1. Yes, I believe these creatures (and the plants, too) perform for your camera when they see you coming. They are assured they will get top billing. Great images once again!

  2. How fortuitous! Good luck comes to those who are prepared. Found your blog from Frank's Early Birder blog. I'll be back!


  3. Your butterfly pictures are breath-taking!

  4. Well, Lois, most creatures tend to present their best poses while I’m busy changing camera batteries or making adjustments to settings or focusing on another subject or any time it’s not possible to get the camera pointed in their direction. If possible, I think most would be laughing at me where ever I walked.

    Hi, Wilma. Thanks for visiting.

    Thank you, Claudia. I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures.

  5. What a fantastic series of images, Steve. Lady luck was definitely with you for these! I've been seeing a lot of butterfly pairs performing the "laundry tumbling" maneuver in midair lately. Love that analogy.

  6. Thanks, Heather. It seems to be a great year for butterflies.