A female checkered white found and photo’d by Dave Amadio ovipositing (on what seems to be Lepidium virginicum) in Salem County, 7-25-12.
We have reached that time in the butterflying season when it’s hard to find a species new for our log for the year. Just about all the expected butterflies have already been recorded, as well as a number of unexpected ones. In fact, it’s been three weeks since we added a FOY for 2012 (C. Allen’s dion skipper on 7-5-12).
Well, how about a First Of Five Years?
We have never had a South Jersey report for checkered white in our log’s five-year history, and it’s one of NJ’s rarest butterflies. Apparently, the most recent report from anywhere in the state is of three individuals at the Newark Airport on August 8, 2008 (Michael Gochfeld, noted in the 2008 Pearly Eye).
So, Dave Amadio scored a big check for our list when he photo’d the female above ovipositing on what he notes seems to be one of its host plants, Lepidium virginicum, Virginia peppergrass.
But he also found seven individuals in total — at two different sites! Two were at Pointers-Auburn Rd (Rt 646) and Rt 40; five were along Featherbed Lane & Sharptown-Auburn Rd. Both sites are in Salem County.
In their Butterflies Of New Jersey (1997) Gochfeld & Burger describe the species’ status, “Highly localized with very few recent records.” They note a record reported by Pat Sutton at Higbee Beach in 1989 “but no regular colonies known from southern New Jersey. Last documented colony in Ocean County in 1964 at Lakehurst (D. Schweitzer).”
They add later in their account, “This species appears to have undergone a dramatic decline in the past century, particularly in the past 50 years over a large part of its range in the southeastern United States.”
Cech & Tudor in Butterflies of the East Coast (2005) note that checkered white seems an “irruptive colonist.” Although a southern species, it “forms sizeable, temporary colonies that occasionally reach Canada, and which can endure for several years (providing winters remain mild). To our knowledge, however, checkered whites are seldom regularly common anywhere in the East.”
Could Dave’s find of seven individuals be a hint of a colony in existence this year in Salem County?
I asked Pat Sutton for details about her sighting listed above and she responded with a very helpful compilation of the five records she knows from Cape May County from the last twenty years or so. She also explained that she and David Wright used “R” for Rare rather than “Stray” in their most recent Checklist of the Butterflies of Cape May County because the species seems “not that migratory.” At one point it had been so long since a sighting that David Wright proposed changing the status to “H” for “Historic Records only.” But the species has been seen in the County five times since 1989, as Pat notes here:
In the 1970’s it was still found in the Pine Barrens. It was resident in Cape May County at least until the 1930’s, and our recent sightings prove that it still is. David Wright has not seen one here in more than 20 years. Dale Schweitzer has not seen since 1964. Last record for Camden was 1967, 1970. Last record for Lakehurst was late 1970’s.
9/20/89: 1st modern day record – Clay & I had one in the Hidden Valley field on New England Road. This was the only modern day record at that time.
5-26-00: 2nd modern day record – Clay Sutton & Louise Zemaitis found a female laying eggs on Virginia Peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum), at the Rea Farm parking area (Shawneen Finnegan video’d it).
9-19-02: 3rd modern day record – a male found by Pat Sutton while leading a CMBO Butterfly Walk in Cape May Point at Pavilion Circle Gardens.
9-21-02: 4th modern day record – Pete Bacinski & a group found one at Hidden Valley.
10-27-02: – 5th modern day record – two found at Higbee Beach in 3rd field (not sure who found them; info from my old “Natural History Hotline”).
Thanks to Pat for passing along all that info and thanks to Dave for sharing his photos.
Here’s hoping some of the rest of us get a chance in the next week or so to get out to Salem County and see if we can see this rarity as well. Or maybe someone can spot another at some other site?!
Female checkered white, photo by Dave Amadio 7-25-12.