Most likely, those are cloudless sulphur butterflies (Phoebis sennae), according to Richard Stickney, a lepidoptrist (scientist who studies butterflies) and a curator with the butterfly house at the N.C. Museum of Life and Science in Durham.
Cloudless sulphur butterflies are common along the Coastal Plain from Florida to Canada. They actually stay here, and reproduce here, during the spring and summer, but they are most apparent now because they’re migrating — “just like the monarch,” Stickney said, “but not as far and not in such big numbers.”
These sulphurs migrate a few at a time, Stickney said, and unlike the monarchs (who fly all the way to Mexico and Central America), they’ll only journey as far as Florida and the upper Caribbean area. They take their time; Stickney has seen cloudless sulphurs in eastern North Carolina as late as December.
Cloudless sulphurs are actually fairly good-sized as butterflies go, with wingspans of 2 1/8 to nearly 3 inches. Their pitcher-shaped eggs (white, turning to a pale orange) hatch into yellow to greenish caterpillars, marked by stripes on their sides and rows of black dots on their backs.
As the name implies, the adult cloudless sulphur has clear yellow wings, the shade of sulfur, with almost no other markings. The male is clear yellow on the top of its wings, with maybe some reddish or brownish mottling on the bottom, while the female is lemon-yellow to golden on both sides, with occasional black spots.
This butterfly favors open spaces, gardens and seashores. It feeds on nectar from a variety of flowers. Stickney said its favorite treats are red, tubular flowers, such as impatiens, but it will also be drawn to morning glory, lantana, marigolds, petunias, rose verbena and zinnias. In season, it loves azaleas.
Click here to see a photo of a cloudless sulphur, just emerged from its chrysalis — taken in New Hanover County.
This article appeared in the StarNews on Sept. 4, 2009.
Date posted: August 28, 2009
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