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Monday, November 15, 2010

Caper White Butterflies have taken over

In the last week and a half, Robertson has had a break of hot steamy weather (at least in the mornings) then thunderstorms or rain, or sometimes even cold drizzle and mist (as now). Point is it has been very humid.
The locals say this is "getting back to normal" for Robbo. What has changed, that which I have noticed, anyway is the arrival here of the Caper White Butterflies. (Belenois java)
Something of a lucky shot.
Click to enlarge.
You can see the rolled up proboscis being unfurled
as the insect prepares to feed.
Yes, we still get the lots of the introduced pest Cabbage White Butterflies (Pieris rapae) because Wild Turnip is a prolific weed here. It is a member of the "Cabbage family" and they are all host plants for that Butterfly.

The other Butterfly we are also noticing, with the bright ochre and cream patches in its wings, is the "Yellow Admiral" (Vanessa itea) . Back to the Caper Whites - one of their little mysteries is why they undergo huge migrations which take them away from their "food plants". Like many Butterflies, the adults can feed on on nectar from a variey of plants.
Here the Butterfly is seeking nectar from a Westringia.But the Caterpillars are not so adjustable, and need specific plant families to successfully draw their nourishment from (as Caterpillars).
Females have a large area of black
around the edge of the upperside of the wings.
Don Herbison-Evans says (on his wonderful Lepidopteran website): "The food plants only grow wild in the northern two-thirds of continent, including: # Brisbane, # New South Wales, and parts of # South Australia. In spite of this, the Caper White butterfly frequently migrates south in summer.

In October 1998, mass migrations occurred in Sydney. Such migrations to Victoria happen sporadically. Migrations to Melbourne for example have been observed in November and in January. There are only a few Caper trees in Melbourne, and it is interesting that the butterflies locate these particular trees and lay eggs on them. How the butterflies find these few trees is unclear."


He adds: "The male and female Caper White butterflies appear to migrate separately."

Later in the same day as when I took the first images, I was at Mount Gibraltar, and I noticed a chase sequence.

A male Caper White Butterfly
(note the fine black border to the wings)
chasing a female.Well, the do seem to find eachother,
even if they catch different planes (so to speak)
as they fly south,
to our cooler climate.
Even if our area is without food for the caterpillars,
clearly it doesn't deter them from attempting to mate.
This male did not manage to achieve the normal "position".
The female flew away, with the male still in hot pursuit.
"Tale est vita"
(Such is Life).

11 comments:

mick said...

I love butterflies but do NOT find them easy to photograph. Beautiful photos, Denis.

Le Loup said...

We get so many butterflys in the valley where we built our house that we named it Butterfly Valley. Last year there must have been thousands coming up the valley from south to north in a constant stream for three days. An incredible sight.
Regards.
http://woodsrunnersdiary.blogspot.com/
http://eighteenthcenturylivinghistory.freeforums.org/

wildwings said...

Interesting post Denis - and a useful link to an excellent butterfly site, thank you.
Cheers
Barbara

Mark Young said...

Beautiful images Denis. When I was up at Hamilton Island earlier this year there were so many butterflies flying around. I don't think that I have ever seen so many at once.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Mick, Barbara, Le Loup and Mark.
Thanks all for the comments.
It seems we all love Butterflies. Le Loup, there are certain places where Butterflies gather. Sometimes they behave in a special manner known as "Hill-topping". Try Googling that. Fascinating.
You are very lucky to be on one of these special places.
My Butterfly shots leave much to be desired. If I can make out the antennae, that's good enough for me.
Thanks everyone.
Denis

catmint said...

Hi Denis, Like Mick, I find it hard to photograph butterflies but the other day I was excited to see some different ones in the garden apart from the usual monarchs and cabbage whites. I think they included the yellow admiral and the caper white. Maybe they were attracted to the westringia which is one of the natives in the garden. cheers, catmint

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Catmint
It seems to be a remarkable season for Caper Whites, this year.
Good that they have made it to Melbourne. It has been reported before (as Don Herbison-Evans reports), but it clearly is unusual.
Mine was attracted to the Westringia too.
Cheers
Denis

Barry Porter said...

I grow capers (Capparis Spinosa) commercially here in the Riverland of SA. Usually we get a few Caper whites every year, however this year with the unusual weather patterns in Nov-Dec they were in plague numbers, several hundred at any one time on the patch. Very unusual they can find us to lay their eggs. Even very small plantings of capers were found by the butterflies, eg 2 plants at Renmark 30 km away, other growers as diverse as Pt Pirie, Burra, Blanchetown, all several hundred km apart had the same invasion. I believe the very light perfume of the flowers enables the flyers to home in on the plants. Cheers, Barry of Kolophon Capers

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Barry
Well you are probably one of a select few who does not want a population explosion of Caper White Butterflies.
Do they do much damage to your crops?
I hope not.
Thanks for the comments - it is very interesting to me.
Apparently they do have native food plants further north, but their migration south is always a bit of a mystery.
Cheers and best wishes for your crop of Capers.
Denis

NativeIllawarra said...

Just discovered your blog while hunting for details on Caper White butterflies - just love it! Thanks for sharing so much useful information and your amazing photographs!

Denis Wilson said...

Hi "Native Illawarra".
Nice to have you drop by.
I am just up the hill from the Illawarra and most of our plants are found in common.
So feel free to check out my Blog for plants or insects you might be wanting to get more info about.
You can use the search engine in the top left hand side of my Blog. Try searching under any names you have, or general names.
Cheers
Denis.