"Butterflies are self propelled flowers." ~ R.H. HeinleinThese are the "Butterflies of August", the Cloudless Sulfurs. Yes, they flitter around earlier in July and a few in June, but August is their month to flourish. Most often you see them in pairs or even groups as they compete for the lantana or blue-mist flowers or the joe-pye weed. These are the mid-sized models, with wingspans from 2¼ to 3⅛ inches and soft bright yellow wings. The male usually has unmarked wings and the female has two rounded spots on the hindwing and one on the forewing. Of all the butterflies, these are the most infuriating to photograph. They are skiddish and only light for a fraction of a second on any plant, as if to say "I want to taste everything in the yard before making my final selection." And when they do finally come to a moment of stillness, you have to be quick and use a long lens or all you see in the shot is a blur of wings at the edge of the viewfinder. This group rarely sits and flexes the wings open in display, so you get what you get.
Sitting out on the deck you watch their mid-air dance... two dancing flowers whirling round and round as they float upwards into the sky and back again. Add four more couples and you have a full airborne ballet. I remember the first August in this house. The fence was not in and the yard was simply weeds, struggling to survive; the invasive cane in the preserve encroached on the property line and we had one stand of joe-pye weed packed between the cane stalks. Early in the morning as the sun came up over the rooftop of the house, the Sulfurs would gather at the joe-pye weed and have breakfast. They came in droves, sometimes as many as ten or twelve drinking the nectar at once and it seemed to make them almost drunk; never since have I seen so many together and so still and quiet.
In June and July of this year, the Candy Lily pictured below, became the high end dining experience for the Sulfurs as well as other butterflies and the hummingbirds. In August and early September, as the numbers increased they branched out to the lantana and the blue-mist bush (caryopteris). These are reported to be permanent residents from Argentina to the Deep South here but I have found nothing about any migrating behavior.
Next season I would like to again have joe-pye weed growing as well as the Cloudless Sulfur caterpillar host plant, Cassia alata. We'll see what happens.
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