Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the March 23, 2014 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

In our area if you have a few warm days anytime during winter you might see a butterfly; I've seen them on and off every cold month. This week I photographed the first butterfly species that hasn't been registered yet on our webpage for local butterflies, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/a/uvalde/.

The new species turned up last Sunday as the latest cold front was blowing in. It was 65°F and the wind just howled through the trees. In such unfriendly conditions it was surprising to see a butterfly, and this one clearly was having a hard time. He'd fly a very short distance, then clumsily land and cling to something. I began my usual slow, careful approach hoping to get a picture, and I got it, shown above.

In fact, when I got close enough for that picture the poor butterfly seemed too distracted or exhausted to react to me at all. I actually nudged him with a finger and he didn't seem to notice. I just left him as you see him, wishing some kind of happy outcome for him.

Bea in snow-clogged Ontario was thrilled to have a butterfly to work with and it didn't take her long to figure out that we had a Checkered White, PONTIA PROTODICE.

Having the name, now our discovery could be looked up, to see what kind of story might lie behind his being out butterflying on such a blustery day.

My guess is that he was out looking for food and maybe was having a hard time finding it, being so unresponsive because of starvation. Checkered White butterflies feed on flower nectar, especially on plants of the Mustard and Daisy or Composite Family, and alfalfa, but because of our drought there's very little flowering now. This time last year there was plenty, but the drought is much worse this year.

Female Checkered Whites lay eggs singly on leaves and flowers of plants the caterpillars will eat, and that's mainly members of the Mustard Family, which holds not only mustard but cabbage, turnips and radishes. At this time of year back East, at least in the South, sometimes you see big fields vibrantly yellow or white with flowers of wild Mustard Family members, and in a normal year here there'd be some flowering, but I haven't seen any so far in this dry year.

Checkered Whites are widely distributed, however, so our drought isn't a threat to the species. They're permanent residents in the southern US, coast to coast, and northern Mexico, but conduct spring flights northward, where they temporarily occupy the northern US and southern Canada, though they don't make it to most of New England.