Who doesn’t love a pretty quartet of wings? The flashy appearance of the Monarch butterfly’s brilliant orange and black wings is so perfect for Autumn. And those white polka dots on black? Very stylish and classic. (The design also signals to birds — don’t eat me, I’m toxic!)
Black Swallowtail butterflies are gorgeous, too. Black, yellow, iridescent blue. The perfect color combination. And those fabulous swallowtails! Definitely au courant. I’m like a fashion photographer coaxing these beauties to show their best side as I chase them all over the neighborhood with my camera. (Click on the photos for a larger view.)
I’ve almost overlooked the less spectacular Cloudless Sulphur butterflies. They’re understated, even plain. They don’t have fancy swallowtails. These small to medium-sized yellow and white sulphur butterflies can look like flower petals or leaves fluttering from a tree, which gives them an advantage in eluding birds that might want to eat them as they hunt for nectar, mates or a place to lay eggs.
The males are a clear yellow above and yellow or mottled with reddish brown below. The female is lemon-yellow to golden or white on both surfaces. Both have mottling, which makes them look more like “moth-eaten” leaves.
Last summer was the first time I really noticed a Cloudless Sulfur butterfly. Certainly, I’ve seen them, but they aren’t showy. The little yellow butterfly flitted in almost under my radar. I saw one moving from blossom to blossom in my impatiens bed. It unfurled its long proboscis into the narrow throat of each impatiens bloom.
As the seed pods formed, I realized, hey, I was there at their conception. I’m sort of their Godmother Nature. I’d plant these seeds instead of buying impatiens, thereby saving money and also bringing the cycle full circle.
When the pods seemed mature, I carefully gathered them. The pod explodes when it’s touched. That’s why they’re called impatiens — they’re impatient to get moving and germinating.
But more about my impatiens project later — this is the Clouded Sulphur’s story. Yet, you can’t separate pollination from butterflies and other pollinators. According to the Pollinator Partnership, almost 80 percent of the food we eat requires a pollinator. A large number of these are insects such as bees and butterflies.
As more land is paved and more acreage tilled for crops, there are fewer places for pollinators to live. About 30 percent of the Monarch butterfly’s summer breeding area is in croplands, where milkweeds — essential for Monarchs to eat — used to thrive, according to Monarch Watch. Herbicides in crop fields have killed off a lot of the milkweed. Monarch Watch helps people plant milkweed in their gardens for the caterpillars to eat. They also suggest nectar and host plants that many butterflies and their caterpillars will like.