A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Beneficial Insect Spotlight:  Checkered White butterfly

The Checkered White butterfly is also known by its Latin name, Pontia protodice, and is quite abundant across the United States.  It is often confused with its close relative, the Western White (1) butterfly, which is found west of the Rockies (2).  Checkered Whites are often found in dry, open fields, along roads, on farmland, and even in residential areas where they seem less affected by city sprawl than other species.

The Checkered Whites love all members of the mustard family (including peppergrass and watercress), and choose these as their host plants, in addition to broccoli, collard and cabbage.  Adult butterflies lay their eggs one at a time on the leaves of these plants, where the growing caterpillars live out their lives, happily munching away on the buds, flowers and leaves.  The eggs are barrel-shaped and are yellow when laid, but then turn orange (3).  Caterpillars are soft green to gray-green in coloration with faint yellow stripes.  They can be found on their host plants and are more commonly known as cabbageworms.   As such, they are sometimes considered to be a minor pest on cultivated crops such as broccoli.   Adult butterflies like to sample a wide range of nectars, but seem to prefer Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) and purpletop Verbena.

You can identify Checkered Whites by their distinct markings.  They are often almost completely white butterflies.  Males are less colorful with fewer patterns, but have at least two black spots on their forewings.  Females display the more identifiable checkered pattern in black, gray and white on the edges of their forewings.  Identification is a little more difficult west of the Rockies where Checkered Whites can be found along with the Western Whites.   Experts say that Western Whites have a slightly darker checkered pattern than their cousin, but the easiest way to tell them apart is by comparing males of the two species.  The row of dark spots on the male Western White is darker than the spots of the male Checkered White, and the hind wing is devoid of coloration or pattern.  Checkered Whites can produce three generations between March and November in cooler climates and four to five generations in warmer climates like ours.

The Checkered White butterfly is a beneficial insect because it is a widespread pollinator and an important food source for many vertebrates.  When you consider that one-third of the world’s cultivated crops depend upon the work of pollinators like butterfly and bees, and that many species of butterfly and bees have been harmed by destruction of habitats and city sprawl, it becomes clear how important this species is!  In addition, butterflies are beneficial to humans for their aesthetic qualities.  Many species are brightly colored and so capture the attention and marvel of many people.  Just watching the whimsical flight of butterflies is enough to lift the spirits!  The Checkered White, for example, has a fast and erratic flight pattern and likes to stay near the ground and in the open (4).

We had a visit from a female Checkered White butterfly this afternoon.  She checked out several flowers, including the whirling butterfly Guaras, purple moss Verbena and what seemed to be her favorite, the Copper Canyon Daisies.   Meanwhile, the large Black Swallowtail caterpillar has left the parsley, I assume to find a nice place to make its chrysalis before emerging as a butterfly in a couple of weeks.  The little guy, however, is still munching away on the parsley!

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Comments on: "Beneficial Insect Files: Checkered White Butterfly" (8)

  1. I always so admire bloggers who can charm a butterfly to stay still. Well, maybe with more Eriogonum, the sunflowers that are sprouting, and the milkweed just coming back from dormancy, I’ll get a few that stick around as well.

    Have fun!

    • roundrockgarden said:

      I swear, I did nothing! She was just having a good time powdering her nose with pollen!

  2. Beautiful little butterfly. Copper canyon daisy in April. I won’t have blooms until at least October and sometimes as late as November. This weather is turning us upside down.

    • roundrockgarden said:

      Jenny, these were actually transplants I purchased a month or so ago. They already had a lot of buds, so as soon as they got planted, they started blooming. I thought it was odd, too, having read they are a fall bloomer. I did read elsewhere that they sometimes do bloom in the spring…

  3. I am an ignorant sap when it comes to names of butterfly visitors to my garden. Of course, I don’t expect any for at least another month. Maybe waiting for the snow to melt will give me time to research this;)

    Christine in Alaska

  4. Beautiful, the last one is my favorite.

  5. Butterflies are so fun to watch.
    I just added parsley to my garden. The parsley in your last post looks like celery…it is so close up and clear. Good photos!
    I’m starting to see the hummingbirds. They really like the autumn sage. Do you have that in your garden?

    • roundrockgarden said:

      Lucky! we don’t have any hummingbirds … and, no autumn sage. Perhaps that’s the problem! 😀

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