Brand New Butterfly

This little, rather nondescript insect was seen laboriously making its way along the path at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. Upon closer inspection, it was revealed to be a cabbage white butterfly, newly emerged from its chrysalis.

Butterflies begin as eggs, become caterpillars and then undergo metamorphosis as a chrysalis and emerge as an adult, flying butterfly. However, this isn’t an instant process! At the end of the chrysalis stage, the butterfly’s wings are folded up inside a shell-like outer case that keeps the insect relatively safe during metamorphosis. This is why this butterfly’s wings look the way they do.

When a butterfly emerges, it takes some time for the wings to unfold and expand to full size. While this is occurring, the butterfly can’t yet fly, making it particularly vulnerable to predators. Butterflies typically stand on the chrysalis shell from which they just emerged while their wings get ready, but that wasn’t the case for this butterfly. It was stretching its wings for the first time on the boardwalk!

Unfortunately from a plant-centric point of view, this introduced species can be considered a pest. Adults feed on nectar, but caterpillars feed on host plants from the Brassicaceae family, including broccoli, cabbage and kale.

From a wildlife-monitoring perspective, however, this butterfly sighting marked an exciting development at the pond. This early bloomer was spotted on April 12, so for me, it was the first butterfly of the season!

Vicky Hunt

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