Sunday, March 25, 2012

First Butterflies!

Click to enlarge this picture, and then look at the flower petals. One of them has antennae! It's a resting cabbage white butterfly, also called a small white, Pieris rapae.  
 I saw a pair of cabbage white butterflies flying among spring flowers on the first day of spring this week. They are the first butterflies I've seen this year.

Cabbage whites are common in Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. They were introduced to North America in the mid 1800s, and have flourished here to become one of our most common butterflies. Their little green caterpillars are big agricultural pests on crops like broccoli, mustard, kale, horseradish, cauliflower, lettuce, and cabbage. The caterpillars cause so much damage that they have their own name -- imported cabbageworms. They also feed on invasive weeds like garlic mustard, so they thrive in disturbed urban habitats like where I live in Brooklyn Heights in New York City.

The cabbage white butterfly has a wingspan of about two inches. The close-up shot below shows a butterfly so pale that its diagnostic wing markings can barely be seen; it has one black dot in the center of each forewing, identifying it as a male, and black wing tips. Females have two dots on the forewing. Individuals that emerge early in the season are lightly marked like this one. Later in the season, individuals will have darker markings.

The sighting reminded me of this poem by the Russian writer, Iasyr Shivaza. These butterflies will not live until autumn.

White Butterfly

The sun is shining on a white butterfly,
You are so happy.
You are playing with a golden ray.
Riding the spring wind. 
Now you are up in the sky,
Reaching towards the white clouds. 
Now you are in the garden,
Sniffing the fresh flowers.
In selecting the flowers, I see,
Your ambition is high. 
The whole garden is yours, 
Alight wherever you like. 
You are playing with a red flower,
Which is like the sun. 
The chrysanthemums are waiting for you,
And the snow-white peonies...
You are like spring, seeking only
The flowers in full bloom. 
But you could never, oh butterfly, 
Alight upon a golden leaf. 


  1. Great shot! Never would've noticed that butterfly on the petal. You take great pictures.

  2. Thank you! I'm not sure I would have picked him out of that photo myself -- I saw him land.