Several butterflies were flying about the Cove Fire site (Modoc National Forest Road 40N11 near Adin CA) when Leonard and I visited it on 09-24-2017, about seven weeks after the fire was controlled. (see “Resilience” on 08-28-17)
I was surprised and delighted to see these colorful insects amid acres of ash and blackened trees. Why were they there? What were they eating?
One butterfly amid the ruins was this clouded sulfur (Colias philodice). This species can be variable in coloration. The upper wings of clouded sulfur males are yellow with a clean black border, while females are yellow to greenish white with spotted black borders. The lower side of the forewings in both sexes have dark submarginal spots while the lower hindwings have a silver (white) cell spot rimmed in orangish pink. Sometimes the cell spot is double.
Clouded sulfurs inhabit fields, meadows, lawns and roadsides throughout most of North America.
The larval host plants, where the adults lay their eggs, include many members of the Pea Family such as alfalfa, vetch, clovers, locoweeds and lupines. Lupines and a vetch were among the newly recovering vegetation. Here was a place for the clouded sulfur butterflies to lay their eggs. Adults drink the nectar of a variety of species. Even though the spreading dogbane and fireweed flowers were on dwarfed plants, (see “Reaction to Stress” on 10-09-2017) they would provide nourishment for the adults. Only seven weeks after a devastating wildfire there was habitat for the clouded sulfur amid the blackened landscape.
A clouded sulfur overwinters as third stage larva or as a chrysalis, the literature disagrees on this point. Perhaps there will be clouded sulfur larvae or a chrysalis to overwinter at the Cove Fire site and begin to repopulate the area in the spring.