Cloudless Sulphur Vividly Yellow Male Butterfly in the Morning Sun

Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Eastern Neck National Wildlife refuge, MD 

When a celebrity enters a room, within moments everyone in the room is aware of it. The same thing happens when Phoebis sennae appears nearby. Photographing this and that in the morning sun, August in Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, I stopped abruptly. When a Cloudless Sulphur is within photo-range, we feel an uncontrollable need to capture an image better than any image of them that we have already gotten in South Carolina or Georgia or Virginia or Mississippi.

Why does this butterfly rivet your attention? Well, because it is vividly yellow, very large, appears unpredictably and leaves just as quickly and because its graceful flight is so unique. So it goes like this: Oh, a Phoebis! Great, it’s landing! Good, it’s decided to sip nectar! Followed by some bouncing from flower to flower, and you stalking it from here to there. Then, there’s that long pause on a flower, long equalling seconds. During that long pause, your Phoebis usually poses briefly and that’s when you think, Please make these exposures my best ever!! That’s it. That’s what I go through when a Phoebis s. takes center stage in front of the lens, so to speak.

I have never seen one in Pennsylvania. Some years ago I startled an Orange-barred Sulphur (Phoebis philea) in Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. It zoomed out of sight in about a 45 degree trajectory, up into nearby trees. That was as startling to me as it was to the Orange-barred. The flights of these related Giant yellows are very different and enable you to surely determine one from the other.

I have by now seen quite a few Cloudless sulphurs. All have had wings intact. How can we explain the absence of predator damage to their wings? What affords this male, flying at only moderate speeds, the protecia he enjoys?


Danaus Plexippus Caterpillar Gorging on Butterflyweed Leaves, an Excellent Food

Monarch butterfly caterpillar photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

It’s July 24th at Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. Because it’s just minutes after 9 A.M. the sun’s rays are just beginning to warm up this stand of wildflowers.

Our Danaus plexippus caterpillar has gorged on Butterflyweed leaves (Asclepias tuberosa) and remains satisfied and sluggish. The following day it may have moved to Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and continue nourishing itself with such excellent Monarch caterpillar food.

These milkweed plants provide the glycosides that add a whole new dimension to this species. Those glycosides aren’t digested by the caterpillar. Instead, they remain unchanged and stable. The metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult ends with those same glycosides present in the adult.

That’s why I have never seen a Monarch caterpillar that bears predator damage. I have great difficulty remembering having ever seen a Monarch butterfly that had wings or other body parts that showed the ravages of a predator.

I have seen birds attack Monarch adults . . . and spit them out as quickly as they have mouthed them. The birds appear to be repulsed by something about the Monarchs.

What is that something? The glycosides. It must be a very, very unpleasant taste.

So our caterpillar rests in plain sight of any and all predators. Soon it will descend down the stem and remain out of sight until much later in the day. Some days later it will work to fasten itself to a plant stalk and then . . .

Have a look at our image of a Monarch Chrysalis.

In 2010 we saw reduced numbers of Monarchs. 2011 brought an increased number. What can we expect of 2012?