Articles by our Members

Click on each title to expand and collapse the article.

Butterfly Articles

Colias IDing (Clouded & Orange Sulphurs)

First, this past Tuesday October 2, 2001 was the first time I have encountered so many Clouded Sulphurs since moving from Iowa 40 years ago. I have been going up in the Macon Co.NC area for many years and have rarely seen this there. I never see these here on the SC coast. This is not a “southern” species. I think the range map in Opler and Krizek (Bflies E. of the Great Plains) is pretty accurate. Spring eurytheme (Orange Sulphur) here in Charleston can be mistaken for philodice in that they are quite yellow and with much narrower margins than the summer eurytheme. They are also larger than the same spring brood up “north”. Eurytheme is not common on the SC lower coast and philodice is not here.

I think it is very difficult to impossible to tell the two apart for sure when their wings are closed by simple markings of the undersides. When perching I would look for one thing in the males. If there is strong sun light behind the individual so that the black margin of the forewings is silhouetted one can make a positive ID of summer individuals. In Clouded the edge of the black margin is positioned exactly where the underside line of black dots runs. In Orange this margin is well inside of these spots in the apical (tip) area of the forewings and slightly inside on the rest of the wing. When visiting flowers this tip area of the forewings is always visible so it is just a matter of looking at them from the right angle to sun light.

Naturally, eurytheme is more orange-ish and philodice yellow in “basic” lower ground color, but older faded eurytheme can easily be taken for philodice. The wing margins are yellow in both with eurytheme having on average a bit more pinkish at the vein tips. But again, this and looking at the black median dots or the single or double spot in the middle of the HW are all too subjective and time consuming. Just go straight to the apical area and focus on it to see the shape of the upper black boarder.

White females. I have to catch these to tell for sure. (These are a good butterfly to learn to catch and release with. They are a good size and have hardy (not delicate) legs. Like Monarchs, they are very sturdy and hard to “harm” in the net. This is why I caught and released the females I saw in Clay Co. – it is the only way I can make a positive ID.) I look for two things. 1) Male associations. If only one species male is found then the females belong to the same species. This is safe. 2) In my experience the light spots within the black boarder of the forewings are small to very small in Clouded while in Orange they are medium to large. I consider the white female in B. of W. VA to be an eurytheme and not a philodice. I also think the black margin tends to be wider in Clouded females and narrower in Orange. In yellow/orange females I would look for very orange-ish ground vs. very yellow ground on the lower side. But here again, faded or older Orange females can easily be mistaken for Clouded.

Even the simplest of butterflies are difficult for a beginner to ID. Thus, the best teacher is experience. This gets into the “look” thing that experienced lepsters talk about. They can’t tell you why it is a _________ , they just known it is as it has the look of ________. An example would be the very different flight pattern of Monarchs and Viceroys. The experienced person is not keying in on color at all – just the look of the way they fly. Unfortunately, these Colias species fly the same – away before you get a chance to get a good look at them.

Ron Gatrelle

2000 — A Banner Year for Butterflies

Those of us who have spent a few years looking at butterflies in the Carolinas would probably agree that this year (2000) has been the best that we can remember for overall numbers of butterflies in the mid-Atlantic states. Even some newspaper articles have commented on the same fact, though this is based mainly on the general public’s observations of more Eastern Tiger Swallowtails seen in their gardens than by their overall impression of a variety of species!

What has been responsible for this boom year? Comments have been made on carolinaleps listserve, and in newspaper articles, about the reasons. The winter, though mostly mild, did have a three-week period of extremely cold and snowy weather, at least in NC. But, as this is a dormant season for most species, the severe weather likely had no effect on most species, which generally pass away the season in the pupal stage. Most importantly, we had no severely cold weather in spring and early summer, unlike the severe weather in late April and early May 1999, when cold and damp weather likely killed large number of larvae. For most of the region, the rainfall levels have been close to normal, though parts of southwestern NC and western SC have had less rainfall than normal. At any rate, in 2000, the Carolinas were not in a drought situation that damaged or destroyed the nectar and host plants for most species.

Rather than specifically detailing some of the species’ highlights so far in 2000, I want to summarize a few of the Fourth of July count totals as a way to portray the excitement that was happening across the Carolinas. Those of us who subscribe to the carolinaleps listserve are aware of this excitement, but many others might be “in the dark”.

The first “count” was an unofficial hairstreak count at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve, NC, on June 3. This state park unit is known for its diversity of Satyrium hairstreaks. Six observers, led by Tom Howard and me, counted a remarkable number of Coral (28) and Edwards’ (48) hairstreaks, among several other hairstreaks. A Carolina Butterfly Society walk at the park the next weekend found numerous Edwards’ and a state record count of King’s, but not a single Coral, emphasizing how quickly broods of some species can terminate.

Though the Forsyth County, NC, count had a rather bland 31 species on June 17, the next day Yadkin County, NC, reached the 40 species level with 41 species, quite impressive for just 190 individual butterflies! However, individuals were not a problem the next weekend at Pettigrew State Park, NC, where nine species were recorded in triple-digits, including counts of 950 Fiery Skippers and 700 Zebra Swallowtails, both of which are likely all-time national highs. And, 42 species were found on the count, with just a single
group of four observers in one party.

The last weekend in June saw a remarkable count in South Carolina. On June 30, four parties and 12 observers tallied an all-time Carolina record 62 species (reported as 63, but duskywing [species?] was counted in the total, when other duskywings were tallied). This was the Francis Marion National Forest count held on June 30, compiled by New Jersey’s Pat Sutton, who with her husband Clay come down to SC each summer to compile this and the neighboring Hobcaw Barony count. The previous Carolina record was the 53 species they tallied a year ago. The following day, the Suttons and friends found an excellent 47 species at Hobcaw Barony, bettering their previous high of 34 species.

North Carolina’s new Blowing Rock count on July 8 tallied a good 44 species, but this count has potential to reach 50, as much public land along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest are available for sampling. Counts swung into full force at the end of July, with Wake County’s good but “much-improvable” 49 species, followed by count records 50 at Weymouth Woods and 59 at Raven Rock, the latter far surpassing the previous state record of 51 species set by Raven Rock and Durham County.

The first weekend of August was the inaugural Caswell County count, and Randy Emmitt amassed an excellent 10 observers to find a remarkable 58 species, just off the state record 59 found at Raven Rock a few days earlier. The Durham County count, by far the most “thorough” in terms of count-circle coverage in North Carolina, was held on August 19, and it was widely felt that with five parties covering a large number of public lands, gardens, and dirt roads, the 60- species barrier might be broken in NC. Sure enough, when all the numbers were in, 60 species and a whopping 6955 individuals were observed!

The focus of counts in NC now shifted back to the coast and wetland skippers. Wilmington had a count record 50 species, despite a lackluster number of individuals, on August 26. The next day, the Croatan National Forest had 41 species in its second year. Finally, the Mainland Dare County count, also in its second year, bettered its 1999 mark with 40 species.

Of course, many of the increases in count totals can be attributed to better experience with the 15-mile-diameter count circles. We are still learning the “hotspots” in our count circles, and we often travel aimlessly within the circles the first year or two trying to find a roadside with nectar sources, etc. Yet, there really were amazing numbers out this summer, as emphasized by the new Iredell County, NC, count on August 20. With hardly
any local or advanced preparation, Jim Nottke and Randy Emmitt rounded up several other persons to find a good 40 species and 1597 individuals!

We still have much to learn about population trends of species over a 5- or 10-year period. In fact, we still have much to learn about a species’ trends even from one brood to the next. For example, many of us were remarking how abundant that the American Lady was this spring and early summer, and many single-observer counts were in the 20-50 range for a single trip afield. Yet, by the time that most Fourth of July counts rolled around in late July, the American Lady was decided less common than usual. Some counts in the Triangle area of North Carolina tallied only one or two, with many observers looking! What happened? Shouldn’t all of those ladies in spring and early summer laid a large number of eggs that would eventually lead to a large brood in late July and August? Who knows? But, we still might see a good population of the last brood, which flies in September and October.

We do know that the spring and early summer was warmer than usual, such that many species were flying one or two weeks earlier than normal. I recall saying that the inaugural Blowing Rock, NC, count, held on July 8, was going to be more like a count held on July 18 or July 20, owing to the advanced flight. I was right, as we tallied very few skippers, most of whose first broods had already finished. In a normal year, many skippers should still be in their first broods on July 8.

The most disappointing feature of the butterfly year, as of mid-September, has been the relative lack of a northbound flight of southern species. Little Yellows have been infrequent, and Ocola and Long-tailed skippers, though widely reported from across the Carolinas, have not been really common anywhere. Cloudless Sulphur numbers have been normal to slightly below normal. We have heard little of any flight of Queens, Great Southern White, and Zebras into coastal South Carolina, though these species might still drift northward later in September into November. I would surmise that the drought in southern Georgia and much of Florida may be responsible for these rather depauperate numbers in the face of an otherwise banner year for the local resident species. August and early September have also been wetter and cooler than usual, with winds mainly from the north and east, not conducive to bringing migrants up from Florida and Georgia.

Late September into November can still be exciting butterflying along our coasts, at least from Fort Fisher, NC, southward. That is when we should look for those southern strays, such as White Peacock, Dorantes Longtail, Tropical Checkered-Skipper, Orange-barred or Large Orange sulphurs, Southern Dogface, and a few others mentioned in the previous paragraph.

I will have an accounting of species-specific highlights in the next Chrysalis, once the entire 2000 flight season has come to a close. What the year has lacked so far in out-of-range strays or new discoveries of rare residents has certainly been surpassed by the number of record single-species counts. And, we still have a month or two to find those rare strays!

Harry LeGrand

Larva Lore: Articles on raising butterflies by Charles Cameron

Larva Lore #2: Variegated Fritillaries (Eupoieta claudia)

The Variegated Fritillary (VF) is a dull orange brown butterfly about the size and general appearance, including the darting flight, of an American Lady. In my opinion it does not have a particularly striking appearance as an adult. However, both the caterpillar and the chrysalis are very striking and seem to make up for the drabness of the adult butterfly. I would describe the caterpillar as barn red with black and white markings and black spines along its body. The chrysalis is a pale green/white with black splotches and iridescent coppery looking highlights which looks like a polished chip of Italian marble. Pictures of both the caterpillar and the chrysalis can be seen in The Butterflies of West Virginia and Their Caterpillars, 1997, by Thomas J. Allen. (Note: In a future column I plan to list books that I have found to be good references for photos of caterpillars and chrysalises. However, I mention Allen’s book now since I consider it a good reference due to its extensive listing of butterflies also found in the Carolina’s. I would therefore recommend it as a first reference for caterpillars and chrysalises of butterflies that are known to be found locally.)

In late May I observed a VF ovipositing on the old flower heads of pansies. The resulting caterpillars were observed feeding on flower petals, some leaves and quite frequently the still green seedpods. This leads me to the following consideration. While it is often recommended (and practiced) to deadhead the old blooms of many flowers, the butterfly gardener that does so with pansies is probably eliminating a preferred ovipositing location and may also be removing some already deposited eggs. Next year one might plan to maintain some pansies as late spring host plants (without deadheading) for the VF’s in your neighborhood.

In late August I observed a VF ovipositing on small (1-2") violet plants that were emerging through a wood chip ground cover. This time the smallest, immature leaf on each plant was selected as the preferred site. Also, Jim Nottke reported to me that he has seen VF caterpillars feeding on Passion Flower vine.

VF butterflies tend to spend a shorter time in the chrysalis than do Monarch’s or Swallowtail’s. The ones I observed in July emerged after only 5 days while the ones in September required 8 days before emerging. An interesting characteristic of the VF chrysalis is that it is sensitive to touching or other disturbances and usually starts twitching fairly rapidly when touched or disturbed.

Unfortunately, I am unable to locate the source but I seem to recall reading a statement or speculation that the VF overwinters as an egg or 1st instar caterpillar on the ground in the location where violets will emerge in the spring. (Comments or clarification of this point are encouraged and welcome.)

Larva Lore #3: Pipevine Swallowtails (Battus Philenor)

The Pipevine Swallowtail (PvS) is one of several very dark (nearly black) swallowtail butterflies. Some people remark that at a distance it looks like a plain black butterfly with no other distinguishing marks apparent. Up close, the upper side of the hind wing appears iridescent blue or blue green with a row of whitish spots. In the female this row of whitish spots extends onto the fore wing. The under side of the hind wings have the orange markings typical of most other swallowtail butterflies.

As enthusiasts gain experience studying butterflies they come to realize the critical role that the host plant plays in the life cycle of butterflies. The host plant for PvS (Aristolochia) seems to be cloaked in mystery and can create considerable discussion as evidenced by the postings on the carolinaleps list server last Fall. For this reason I felt that PvS’s might be a timely topic for a column based on the experiences of others since I cannot yet claim any personal experience raising Pipevine Swallowtails.

Two species of Aristolochia are considered native to North Carolina. A. serpentaria (Virginia Snakeroot) is a ground hugging vine that is scattered throughout the state and is probably the only native Aristolochia in the piedmont area. Its usual habitat is mixed deciduous forests, woodland margins
and stream banks. It may be overlooked since usually only the leaves and part of the stems show above the leaf litter. A. macrophylla (Dutchman’s Pipe) is native to the mountains, and should be found in rich woods, coves and stream banks. This is a climbing vine that is often trained up trellises in garden plantings and mature plants can develop woody stems. A. macrophylla has been referred to as A. durior but A. macrophylla is considered the correct name. A. tomentosa is native to the southern states and probably occurs in South Carolina (and possibly North Carolina) Other species are native to California, Texas and New Mexico respectively while several tropical species have been introduced into Florida.

The orange eggs are generally deposited on the stems or the underside of the leaves of the host plant. They may be deposited singly but more often in clusters of 4 or 5 and sometimes up to 20 eggs per cluster. The young caterpillars feed together (termed gregarious behavior) and then at some
point each heads off alone to seek its fortune. Some observers say they split up after the first instar while others say they stay together through the second or third instar. Paul Calvalconte reported that the caterpillars are inclined to drop to the ground when disturbed. They usually hang on in the wind but drop to the ground from most other disturbances. This large concentration of hungry caterpillars on one plant is what usually attracts attention (and then concern). This is often the case in gardens where there may be only one or two plants or the plants have not yet had time to develop significant size. Before long the plant has been stripped of all leaves and
there is no other acceptable food in sight. The vines are fairly robust and
will re-grow new leaves, but generally not fast enough to satisfy the waiting
caterpillars. While both A. serpentaria and A. macrophylla seem to be equally desirable ovipositing sites, the A. macrophylla ("large leaves") will generally provide more forage for the caterpillars. The last instar caterpillars are described as black or sometimes a purplish dark chocolate with rows of fleshy tubercles with red bases along the body. The pair at the head are longer and probably are used as feelers.

There has been some debate about the suitability of A. elegans (Calico Flower) as a host plant for PvS. The conclusion seems to be that while the female PvS will oviposit on A. elegans the caterpillars do not thrive and quite often die. This past summer Jim Nottke had an interesting observation while trying to raise some " foster" PvS caterpillars that had eaten themselves out of their original home at Patrick Coin’s. Jim’s supply of A. serpentaria was soon consumed so he was forced to try some alternatives. The caterpillars indeed refused A. elegans but would nibble on a hybrid A. elegans x A. macrophylla and grew slowly. However, as the A. serpentaria regenerated those leaves were definitely favored and quickly consumed.

Two and possibly three broods are considered normal for North Carolina. Patrick Coin has noticed a two year cycle in PvS numbers. In alternating years there are enough caterpillars to completely defoliate the A. serpentaria in his yard and neighborhood. (2000 was such a year so this year may be a year of lower numbers.) The chrysalises may be a green or brown color. Like other swallowtails they are held erect with a silken sling or girdle although they have a rougher appearance with more projections and bumps. Chrysalises from earlier broods have been found attached to the host vine but more often the caterpillars move off to another location to pupate.

Sparrel Wood has found PvS chrysalises over sixty feet away from the presumed host plant. The chrysalis is the over wintering form for PvS’s and Don and Sheryl Dorton of Charlotte had captive raised PvS butterflies emerge in early April. A photo of the caterpillar and the chrysalis can be seen in Florida Butterfly Gardening by Marc C. Minno and Maria Minno. However, I suspect the photo of the chrysalis was inverted by the publisher.

I would like to thank those credited above plus Will Cook, Elizabeth Hunter, Tom Krakauer, and Smitty Mallard who all shared information that was used in the creation of this column.

Larva Lore #5: Sleepy Orange (Eurema nicippe)

The location and survival of butterfly larva depends on the host plant appropriate to the species of butterfly. Since this tale of butterfly larva really involves tales of the host plant, I thought I would start this column with the host plant.

Sicklepod is a weed that occurs in disturbed sites. It is commonly found growing in agricultural crops such as soybean, cotton or corn. It has yellow flowers, large compound leaves of 6 oval leaflets and a long thin curved (sickle shaped) seedpods. The plant is often about two feet tall before it is noticed and it is reported to get up to five tall. Senna obtusifolia is recognized as a common host plant for both Sleepy Oranges and Cloudless Sulphurs.

While on the Raven Rock Annual Count earlier this year Will Cook and I saw numerous Sleepy Oranges. At some point Will pointed out that the plant in the roadside ditch was Sicklepod, the host for Sleepy Oranges. My thought was “yeah, well OK, nice to know but aren’t there some more exciting butterflies and host plants we could find. Maybe even something with a caterpillar or two”.

On a later butterfly count Jim Nottke noticed an orange butterfly ovipositing on some Sicklepod in the cut portion of a corn field. We each collected some leaves with the eggs and then some less-crushed plant for the anticipated caterpillars. Upon arriving home I discovered that I had several more eggs than I thought I had. After a couple of days the original host plant was a little the worse for having been run over by the harvester and the trip home. Since I hadn’t yet located any Sicklepod close to home and I had to be in Chapel Hill for the day, I contacted Will and he suggested I check some Soybean fields near Carborro. Yes, there was Sicklepod and I was able to replenish my supply. When I got home I discovered that I had even more eggs and some caterpillars LARGER than the ones I was trying to raise. Two more trips to fields closer to home yielded more Sicklepod including more eggs and caterpillars! This was getting to be a bit much. A couple of days later I was biking along the RR tracks near home (in the city) when I noticed some Sicklepod (only about 18″ tall). Plus, along came a Sleepy Orange to oviposit. I figured I had it made. I didn’t have to drive halfway across the county, I could just ride my bike up to the RR tracks and get more Sicklepod when I needed it. As I continued on home I thought about the fact that there certainly were eggs on the plant and did I really need any more caterpillars to raise. When I got home I found I already had 15 chrysalises and about 20 caterpillars at various stages. So what did I do? The next day I took all of the remaining caterpillars up to the RR tracks and put them on the Sicklepod there.


So what did I observe while raising this “unexciting little orange butterfly”? The eggs were slightly greenish white, shaped a lot like little bowling pins. Eggs were found on both the tops and the bottoms of the leaves, quite often with two eggs per leaflet. When the caterpillars hatched they were clear colored. Then as they started eating I could see the green plant material in their gut. Later instar caterpillars were a velvety green, darker on the bottom than the top with a cream colored band along the body between the dark and light green areas.

When raising them on cut plants in a container the caterpillars usually sought a fairly horizontal surface on the plant for pupation. However, so far I have not found any chrysalises on the plants where I released the surplus caterpillars. Did they wander off to pupate or were they snatched by a predator? They suspended themselves in a “U” shape with a sling or girdle of silk. The green chrysalis is pointed on both ends with a large hump on the top. See Florida Butterfly Gardening by Marc C. Minno and Maria Minno, page 68 for pictures of caterpillar, chrysalis and Sicklepod.

Since I ended up mixing eggs and larva I don’t know how long the larva stage was or how long it took for the eggs to hatch. Generally the chrysalis stage was one week. As the butterfly develops in the chrysalis, the center of the hump starts to change to an orange color. Later a black border can be seen around the orange area. This coloring proved to be the upper surface of the forewing. Most butterflies have their wings compressed along the body in essentially the normal position. However, the Sleepy Orange has its wings (and antenna) folded down over its legs, showing the top surface of the wing through the chrysalis. Once it had emerged from the chrysalis and its wings expanded they were quite willing to just hang around for a lot longer than many of the other butterflies I have raised. They do keep their wings closed when perching which makes it hard to study the upper wing patterns.

Since I ended up mixing eggs and larva I don’t know how long the larva stage was or how long it took for the eggs to hatch. Generally the chrysalis stage was one week. As the butterfly develops in the chrysalis, the center of the hump starts to change to an orange color. Later a black border can be seen around the orange area. This coloring proved to be the upper surface of the forewing. Most butterflies have their wings compressed along the body in essentially the normal position. However, the Sleepy Orange has its wings (and antenna) folded down over its legs, showing the top surface of the wing through the chrysalis. Once it had emerged from the chrysalis and its wings expanded they were quite willing to just hang around for a lot longer than many of the other butterflies I have raised. They do keep their wings closed when perching which makes it hard to study the upper wing patterns.

The butterfly probably overwinters as an adult in this area. Some people have seen them around on mild days in January. This Fall/Winter form has darker coloring on the underside of the wings (from tan to light brown rather than pale yellow).