As I mentioned in a recent post, Cloudless Sulphurs are laying eggs on our Partridge Pea out in Catch the Wind. Partridge Pea is a senna, a legume. If you have it growing in your yard you will have Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars on the plant, it’s a fairly certain thing in our area. The butterfly is common from about mid July to November, most common in August and September, right now!
Cloudless Sulphurs presumably get their common name from the fact that their wings are relatively unmarked, not clouded, especially on the upper surface. Its latin name is Phoebis sennae. The species name sennae comes from the name of its host plants, sennas such as Partridge Pea. I’m not quite sure about the origin of the genus part of the name, Phoebis. It may derive from the name of the Titan Goddess Phoibe or Phoebe, goddess of “bright intellect” or simply the greek word Phoibos “bright.” From those two clues it would seem that the Latin name Phoebis sennae means a “brightly” colored butterfly that likes “senna.”
What do they look like? Cloudless Sulphurs are relatively unmarked yellow, but they may have a slight greenish cast to them.
Are they the only yellowish butterflies in our area? No. There’s a handful of other nearly all yellow butterflies in the area, like Clouded and Orange Sulphurs, Sleepy Orange, and Little Yellow, but they’re all much smaller than Cloudless Sulphur. There should be little confusion separating the cloudless from the others because of its larger size. And, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, which is mostly yellow, has black stripes on its wings and is a swallowtail with a much different shape and flight dynamic. So, once you know what the Cloudless Sulphur looks like, you should be able to recognize it on sight.
Well, now that you know a little bit about Cloudless Sulphurs here’s some photos of their life cycle.
So, the next time you’re passing through Catch the Wind on your way to Explore the Wild look for these butterflies and caterpillars. The Partridge Pea plants will be on your right just north of the Sail Boat Pond as you exit Catch the Wind. If you’re lucky you may see one of the butterflies land on the plant, tip her abdomen in towards the plant and lay an egg. As soon as the butterfly leaves the plant, walk over and inspect the leaf or stem where she had just made contact with the plant, you may see an egg!
Greg Dodge is a professional naturalist as well as a writer, videographer and producer of natural history DVDs. His images have been used in various TV productions, museum displays, and corporate videos. Above all, he has a fascination and passion for all things natural.
He can be found Tuesday thru Saturday in Explore the Wild, Catch the Wind, or on the Dinosaur Trail. Ask him what’s new in the wild!