Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

August 12, 2012

Southern Types

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:53 am

It’s about time to talk about butterflies again. Not that I’ve neglected the subject entirely, but it hasn’t come up as often as it probably should. It’s safe to say I was raised on the love of the scaly winged tribe and that I’ve never strayed from them as a naturalist. As a blogger, however, I will admit to being unnaturally swayed by birds and other such larger critters. Perhaps the reason might be that these types of things don’t usually require much background explanation and that I can be lazy at times.

It wasn’t laziness that prompted my latest trip out to the grassland park just outside Dundee – West County Park, or something like that. The trip was taken at mid-day and the day was already getting hot, so you could say that stupidity overruled laziness in this case. The place is wide open and exposed. Frankly, it was the wrong time to expect much of anything other than prairie plants (another subject I have neglected and one which shall remain neglected for some time to come).

Apart from spotting a few skippers of the Silver-spotted kind, a Buffalo Treehopper (look that one up because I don’t want to explain it right now)  and some Cabbage Whites, the one mile trek was approaching the self condemning “see, I told you so” stage as I closed to within 100 feet of my car. Yes, I also discovered a beautifully precise Goldfinch nest (complete with four beautifully precise eggs) but, given the introductory theme of this entry, I should not elaborate on this.

A petite yellowish butterfly caught my eye as it raised up off the trail not 50 feet from my car. There are a whole host of obscure grass moths that fit the description of this individual and I rarely take much notice. But because this one persisted in it’s giddy flight and kept close to the ground, my interest was piqued.  It flew like a butterfly. Most of the familiar butterflies in this size category are blue or dark in color (see, there is one of those requisite explanatory notes). Unfortunately, this mini-butterfly refused to land.  It remained on the path route but was causing me to retrace my route.  After what seemed like a quarter mile Will ‘O the Wisp chase, I gave up. I wasn’t THAT interested.

Returning to the original spot close to my car I was greeted by the sight of yet another example of this petite yellow creature. This one also flew but, praise to the patient Prairie Gods, it soon landed and allowed me to approach.  Now I can’t say that I knew the following fact right away but I found myself nose to proboscis with a Dwarf Sulphur. This, of course, needs further explanation in order to explain my delight.

This species is not an everyday resident in my neighborhood. Dwarf Sulphurs are common butterflies elsewhere but not at all common in Michigan. I could even go so far as to say they are quite rare in the state. It probably should be no surprise that I had never seen one before.

Also known as the Dainty Sulphur, Nathalis iole, and a few other names, the tiny butterfly is a member of the White family. It is related to Cabbage Whites & Clouded Sulphurs, those white & yellow flutterbys of mid summer fields.  They are half the size of their fellow Whites but share the family look. Overall a light yellowish white with a tendency toward bright yellow on the under portion of the forewings, the upper wings are marked with prominent dark patches fore and aft. Two clear freckles fill the space between the patches and serve as clear identifying marks.  Large eyes, furry body, and yellow tipped matchstick antennae complete the picture. They have the distinctive habit of flying close to the ground.

Dwarf Sulphurs are southern butterflies, ya’ll.  It is not unusual for southern insects to spread north every now and then in a phenomenon called an “irruption.”  A reverse of the human snowbird phenomenon, the summer irruptors move north and stay until the cold weather drives them back. They can not withstand our winters. The pattern of irruption is sporadic (say that last phrase three times and you’ll have a perfect morning tongue workout). In the case of southerners, extended periods of warm weather provide the main incentive. In other words, when Kentucky weather comes to Michigan the Kentuckians follow.  Buckeye Butterflies, another basically southern type, have been coming north nearly every summer in recent memory and are common county residents.

Unlike the Buckeye, the dainty Sulphur is not a regular in this regard. They are true southerners which are even rare in the buffer states such as Ohio (excuse my reference to Ohio as a buffer but it is the place where the south gradually fades into the north). The records in that state are scattered at best. There have been quite a few Dwarf Sulphurs spotted this year and my sightings up in Michiganland confirm that this is a genuine irruptive year.

So there you have it. A delicate small southerner makes the news – at least within the delicate small world of my blog.

1 Comment

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