The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, September 25, 2005

White Angled-Sulphur was the Highlight of Victoria Butterfly Count
by Ro Wauer

On Sept. 15, from 9am to 4:30pm, six of us “combed” the county for whatever kinds of butterflies were present. We ended our day with a grand total of 50 species! Of those 50 species, none were as exciting as the white angled-sulphur that was recorded at the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden near the airport; a small but neat garden well worth a visit. The angled-sulphur is an extremely large (wingspan to 3.5 inches) greenish butterfly with sharply angled wings and slightly falcate wingtips. The underside is leaf-green with bulging veins and a faint reddish spot on both wings. The upperside is white with a large orange-yellow patch on the leading edge of the forewing. The leaf-green color blends in so well with the surrounding vegetation that it can perch for long periods of time without being discovered.

White angled-sulphurs, a tropical species that rarely occurs in the United States north of the Rio Grande Valley, has been reported to the north of the Valley on several occasions this year, from Dallas to Houston and southward. I have seen it at least three times in my yard near Mission Valley, and the one at the airport garden had been hanging around for at least five days. The number of observations throughout the state this year makes one wonder how many of these tropical butterflies are actually present across Texas, and what has happened to make this unusual species this year leave its normal breeding grounds and fly northward. Plus, it undoubtedly is reported on only those very rare occasions when one just happens to find a larval food plant, limited to cassias, to its liking to stay put and be found. The airport garden has a large candlestick senna that apparently had attracted its attention.

Although our small group of six – Barbara Bruns, Bill Farnsworth, Paul Julian, Linda Valdez, and Betty and I – was most excited about the angled-sulphur, we found 49 additional butterflies during the day. Three other sulphurs were tallied in fairly large numbers: cloudless and large orange sulphurs and little yellow. The 70 little yellows, tiny yellow butterflies flying along roadsides and across grassy fields, represented the highest number of the 50 species. But gulf fritillaries, a large orange butterfly with black spots on the upperside and silvery blotches on the underside, were also found in good numbers. And a good number white peacocks were also recorded. This is a large mostly white species with a black-bordered blue-gray bar on the leading edge and one oblong median spot on the forewing. Another tropical species, the white peacock is a colonist along the Guadalupe River, and they emerge each year in late summer and fall to spread out along the riverway and adjacent lakes.

Three species of swallowtails were recorded: several pipevine and giant swallowtails and a lone eastern tiger swallowtail. And a few monarchs were found; the monarch fall migration has only just begun, and these large orange-brown butterflies should increase in numbers during the next few weeks. But they can be confused with the more common queen, a slightly smaller milkweed butterfly that we found in good numbers.

A complete list of what we recorded, to help those of you interested in identifying what might be present in your own yard, follows: pipevine, giant, and eastern tiger swallowtails; checkered white; orange, cloudless, large orange, and dainty sulphurs; white angled-sulphur; southern dogface; little yellow; sleepy orange; gray hairstreak; mallow scrub-hairstreak; ceraunus blue; gulf fritillary; bordered patch; silvery checkerspot; phaon and pearl crescents; painted lady; common buckeye; white peacock; viceroy; goatweed leafwing; tawny emperor; Carolina satyr; monarch, queen; white-striped longtail; long-tailed, sickle-winged, Julia’s, clouded, fiery, dun, eufala, and ocola skippers; coyote cloudywing; false and Horace’s duskywings; common, tropical, and desert checkered-skippers; laviana and Turk’s-cap white-skippers; whirlabout; southern broken-dash; sachem; and Celia’s roadside-skipper.

There undoubtedly were more species out there that we did not encounter. For instance, we did not find black swallowtail, dusky-blue groundstreak, American snout, Texan and vesta cresents, question mark, hackberry emperor, northern cloudywing, funereal duskywing, and southern skipperling, all species that I had seen very recently. But we will do a count again next year.

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