Saturday, April 27, 2013

Falcate Orangetip

Tearing goofily around the woods in pursuit of small butterflies hardly seems to be an activity befitting grown men. But sometimes I can't help myself, and succumb to the allure of charming little animals such as the Falcate Orangetip, Anthocharis midea.

There! See? An orangetip rests on the oak leaf litter, right in the middle of the photograph. Such a view is typical of this species. Sharp-eyed and leery, the orangetips are quick to take wing when approached, and in the blink of an eye will be hundreds of feet away.

Ah! We crop our way in to the little beast, and can now admire the fabulous coloration of this male. The orange-yellow wing tips are diagnostic - quite unlike any of our other butterflies. Falcate Orangetips are tiny little insects, noticeably smaller than the familiar Cabbage White of towns, gardens and nearly everywhere open. Unlike Cabbage Whites, the orangetips are very much butterflies of the forest, seldom straying far from the cover of timber. They fly but for a brief time in April and May, so if you want to see one you'd better get afield soon.

Falcate Orangetips are a southerner, and best sought in the hill country of southern and eastern Ohio. I made these images in Shawnee State Forest where they are plentiful. An essential ingredient in the ecological orangetip recipe is mustards. Like many other species in the White family of butterflies, the orangetips must have mustards to deposit their eggs upon, which the caterpillars will fatten up on. A favored host plant seems to be Smooth Rock Cress, Arabis laevigata, but they will use the more plentiful toothworts as well.

Anyway, these little rascals can be devilishly hard to run down. The males never seem to stop. They have work to do, females to find. Their visits to flowers for nectar are usually quite brief, and as soon as you train the camera on one, it's gone, off to the next flower. A photographer trying to image a Falcate Orangetip is often like a puppet on a string, led in jerky erratic fits and spurts around the forest by tiny bit of gossamer-winged butterfly. An observer would think the photog to be a drunken lunatic, if they didn't know the score.

But even Falcate Orangetips must take a break and this one finally did. An orangetip in repose tightly appresses its wings over its body, and becomes one with the leaf litter. By slipping to the ground, and scootching along on my belly, I was able to get right on top of the animal, and capture the best images that I've made to date of one of these little stunners.


jaredmizanin said...

Awesome post! Would love to see one of these. So much to see in those southern woods. Great photos, Jim.

Wren nests in... said...

Those photos are worth a little bragging... Lovely!

Ron Gamble said...

I will second the "awesome"!