Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Wings of White

It’s that season again and love bugs are very definitely here in force. Thankfully their numbers are not quite as overwhelming as last year. In early May of 2010 the car got washed every couple of days just to remove the film of bug juice. Once out of urban streets the numbers increased and windshields became a thick green after only two or three miles. That hasn’t been necessary this year, but what’s interesting is that the love bugs are not alone this time around. They’ve brought insect allies and the invasion includes swarms of white butterflies. So far these butterflies have proven harmless, or at least as far as splattering on your grill and windshield goes. Some might even say they add a quality almost bucolic, the sense of dainty butterflies dancing over fields of wild flowers. Unlike the love bugs, butterflies are uninterested in cars and white surfaces, preferring areas of green instead.

Walking on the beach early this morning it surprised me to find one of these white butterflies on the wet sand. From the look of it, the wetness of the sand had trapped the insect, its wings stretched out flat against the surface and no attempt to fly away. I watched for a couple of minutes then decided to gently lift the butterfly, carry it home and try to find out more about it. In another minute I met the beach patrol truck and waved it down to ask the always friendly and helpful officers what they knew about these butterflies. Right off they told me that folks around here called them cabbage moths. On looking up ‘cabbage moth’ I saw that it’s a nickname for both the Pieris napi and Pieris marginalis species of butterfly.

For the swarms we see around here these days, the correct identification is Veined White Butterfly, or Pieris marginalis. It closely resembles the napi, lacking only the black spots on its wings. What puzzles me is the California, Idaho and Pacific Northwest habitats listed for this butterfly. Not that I want to dispute the word of butterfly experts, but maybe they need to extend those western habitats. Central Florida is now seeing clouds of these delicate Veined White Butterflies. Step outside to an area of green shrubs and trees and you’ll find several flittering in front of your face.

Like all butterflies, the Veined White goes through four stages of life—as an egg or embryo, a larva, a pupa and adult. The females lay their eggs on the underside of leaves, which as pupa or caterpillars gobble up the leaves of their host plant before going into a cocoon stage from which the butterfly (adult) emerges. The butterflies feed on nectar from flowers, or pollen, tree sap or rotting fruit. They may also feed on dissolved minerals in wet sand which could be why I found one on the beach. Something that surprised me is the butterflies have well developed vision, sensitive to the ultraviolet spectrum.

The white butterflies have been such a pleasant sight the past week or two, one that brings with it some measure of beauty, something that all of us can appreciate. Who doesn't like the sight of a butterfly fluttering by or sitting perched on flower or branch? For one reason or another I feel a little better knowing exactly what the floating, dancing clouds of white I'm seeing every day are. Still waiting though for the pesky love bugs to depart for distant counties.


  1. Lovely post. You're right, the lovebugs aren't as bad this year, but they are early. Usually we see them around Memorial Day. No Veined Whites here, too bad, I like your description of the clouds of white...

  2. Not a lot of butterflies around the patio and Koi pond, unfortunately. Yes, wonderful to watch. Have to settle for the swarms of birds to the many feeders about and the hummingbirds best seen for a moment at flowers but whose flight is always difficult to keep up with. Feel sorry for those who don't notice what's outside their door.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America