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May 3, 2011

Life Speaks: The West Virginia White butterfly

The West Virginia White is a relatively rare, little white forest butterfly which only emerges for a brief period each spring.  It normally lays its eggs on native mustard plants, which manifest as spring ephemeral wildflowers.  You may know some of these potential hosts: two leaved toothwort, cut leaved toothwort, common rock cress, and others.

The West Virginia White flies in April and May; and its caterpillars feed through to June.  The caterpillars look a lot like those of the cabbage butterfly, however, they lack the yellow striping.  Eggs are laid singly on leaves, cemented to the surface and usually perpendicular, too.

They fly slow and low along the forest bottom, looking for places to nectar and to lay their eggs.  Anecdotally, they have been in decline due to deforestation, plant invasion, and other things – however, none of these have been shown, as there is no real evidence of previous population health.  The West Virginia White has been noted as “in decline” since the early 1900s.

These West Virginia White butterflies can teach us to take life slow, and to not believe everything we hear.  These little bugs have been fighting to hang on for a while now.  Go, you!  They also teach us to spread our resources evenly - by laying eggs, one at a time, unlike other butterflies in the same family.  Finally, they teach us to take risks - by surviving in often daunting spring weather (rain, wind, cold, oh my!)

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