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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lekking leps

Eric observed an intriguing butterfly flutter to the ground near our house in Sebastopol this morning.  It turned out to be a Pine White (Neophasia menapia).  It's the first time we've noticed this species in our yard.

Note the greenish-white background color.  The thick, dark outlines of the veins and the orange coloration along the edge of the hindwing indicate that this is a female.  (Males are paler and lack the orange.)  Some of the darker scales showed a purple iridescence (see below).

Shapiro and Manolis provide this fun description of Pine White behavior in A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions (2007):

"Adults lek around the tops of pines and occasionally other trees, dropping to near the ground and then rising to near the top in a spiraling motion;  they repeat the process again and again.  Their flight seems effortless, with infrequent wingbeats, and they have more than once been likened to giant snowflakes wafted in the breeze."

[A lek is a gathering of individuals involved in courtship displays.  "Lep" (from the title of this post) is an informal abbreviation for "lepidoptera," the scientific name for butterflies and moths.]

Here's a close-up:

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