Monday, September 27, 2010

Sulfur Without The Smell

Cloudless Sulfur (Phoebis sennae)
(Click pictures to enlarge)

"Butterflies are self propelled flowers." ~ R.H. Heinlein
These 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.

Gathering at the Joe-Pye Weed. August 2007

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.

Cloudless Sulfur blending in with the Candy Lily Posted by Picasa

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.

(end of post)


Beverly said...

Those photos and your descriptions are so lovely.  I'm here in California with a fellow blogger.  It has been such a pleasue being with her and her husband.  All good things come to an end on Wednesday when I fly back to Florida.  Then in another week I'll be on my way to Virginia.  Hopefully we can meet up.  I will look forward to seeing you again.

If it is as pretty where Nyssa is as it is at Lake Tahoe, you will have to make a trip out here.  The beauty of the land is marvelous, so unlike the east.

kenju said...

I love joe-pye weed, although I am at a loss as to why they refer to it as a weed. There is so much of it in SW VA and I love seeing it near the highways.

ChiIL Mama said...

Absolutely lovely photos and words!   We love butterflies and have a butterfly garden in our chicago yard.   

sandra said...

i like this sulfur much better than the smelly kind. we had a couple of these in our yard this year and i did not know what they were. we live 20 blocks from a butterfly farm, and we get escapees here.
on the smelly sulfur. yesterday in the store i saw Artesian water in a bottle at 2.89 per bottle. expensive smelly stuff

Ginny Hartzler said...

These are just lovely. I like the evocative way you describe them as flowers whirling in the air. The picture of them all gathering on the weed is amazing. I actually Googled them and went to just a few websites to find out why they are called cloudless, but couldn't find anything.

ramblingwoods-Michelle said...

I think I have a blurry photo or two of these...oh heck, I have a ton of blurry photos of these guys. I planted two Joe Pye this summer along one side of the house with swamp milkweed. I hope they do well and provide a lot of opportunities to photograph the visitors.....

colleen said...

You are quite the butterfly watcher.  I finally saw and was able to photograph a monarch in my yard. But they only passed by so briefly. Yet, the other day I stumbled upons a strop of wildflowers on the side of a country road where there were dozens!  I only have one photo posted so far. I want to go back and get more (if they haven't moved on already).

Col said...

I love these little guys and am thrilled to finally know their name.  :)   Your photos are amazing!!  I have also spent some time trying to capture them with the camera but with very little success.   I do love to see their dance.