Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sulphur Butterflies

Even though it is a most common butterfly throughout the State of Ohio, the Clouded Sulphur butterfly is an uncommon find at Blue Jay Barrens.  That is most likely because the Red and White Clovers upon which the Clouded Sulphur caterpillars feed is practically absent on this property.

During my childhood, Clouded Sulphurs were a particular favorite of mine.  No matter where we happened to be living, nearby agricultural fields abounded with Red Clover and with that plant came the butterflies.  My net captured hundreds of this species, which I would inspect closely and then release.

Clouded Sulphurs are common puddlers and will often blanket a small patch of mud.  I used to race through mud holes, raising clouds of butterflies.  It is fortunate that these butterflies are so quick to return to their mud.  As an eight year old, I had little patience for waiting on butterflies to regroup for my next run.

Mud holes are also uncommon in the well drained soils of Blue Jay Barrens.  The pond bottom is about the only decent place for puddling butterflies to gather.

Besides the resident Clouded Sulphur, Blue Jay Barrens has a couple of migrant Sulphurs that show up each summer.  This is the Cloudless Sulphur, a species that regularly shows up here in August.  The largest of the Sulphurs, this butterfly presents a bright lime-green appearance when in flight.  The large spots on the wings identify this individual as a female.  It’s possible that she will deposit eggs on some of the abundant Wild Senna growing in this field, but none of her offspring will survive the winter weather experienced in this area.  Next year’s Cloudless Sulphurs will come here from southern states with milder winters.

Thistle flowers are a favorite of this species.  These butterflies fly much faster than the average person can travel through the field, so chasing one down is problematic.  The easiest place to view them is on thistle flowers.

The Little Sulphur is the smallest of the Sulphurs.  It flies close to the ground and weaves its way through the tall vegetation.  Its small size makes it appear quite moth-like as it moves from one location to the next.

The best time to view this species is early in the morning, before the dew dries and the butterflies warm up.  At that time, disturbed individuals will only move a short distance before settling back down.  This is another migrant that moves in each year from more southern states.  Perhaps one day it will actually be a resident of this area.

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