A Cabbage White

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)

The birds scattered and disappeared ahead of me as I bicycled slowly on the north leg of the perimeter path.  Wanting to catch photos of the birds, I parked my bike and sat still on a bench, waiting for the birds to feel calm and safe and to reappear.  While waiting, my eyes were drawn to a white butterfly that danced around a bush just across the path from me. Small and hard to see though it was for me, it must have glowed like a beacon in the eyes of its cohorts, as it soon drew a visit from another white butterfly, and the two of them twirled and skipped around merrily for a minute or two until one settled down in the bush again, and stayed still enough for me to sneak up a bit closer and get some photos.  This — I determined after getting home and looking it up — is a common garden visitor, the Cabbage White (Pieris rapae).  Its larvae and caterpillars can cause and have caused severe crop damage.  Judging by the chewed-up condition of the leaves on which this individual landed, see photo, the damage isn’t confined to crops; even the essentially weedy and unpalatable flora of Cesar Chavez Park is on this moth’s menu.  There is an extensive body of scholarly research on this bug, including this article which finds that the female, when sexually receptive, displays on her wing a color in the ultraviolet spectrum that is invisible to humans but is sexually arousing to males of her species.  

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