Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Dainty sulphur

with 26 comments

Click for a sharper view of things, including the scales on the wings.

It wasn’t only native plants that I photographed on the morning of February 1, though you do see part of a just-getting-started kidneywood bush, Eysenhardtia texana, in this picture. Of more obvious interest is the butterfly, which was uncommonly docile and didn’t fly away or even move when I got very close with my macro lens. Was it ailing? I don’t know. And I don’t know that much about butterflies in general, but accounts in a couple of field guides make me think this could be a dainty sulphur, Nathalis iole. If there are any lepidopterists out there who can say for sure, please chime in.

The drought of 2011 kept butterfly numbers down, so although I’ve been writing this column for eight months now, today’s post is only the fourth to deal with a butterfly. The other three showed a panorama of a swallowtail on a thistle in a meadow of wildflowers, then a closeup of a two-tailed swallowtail on clammyweed, and finally a monarch on a rain-lily. In the past couple of weeks, which have seen some rain, I’ve noticed that a lot of small sulphur butterflies have suddenly appeared; their presence on February 1 was a welcome chance for another picture of this type.


UPDATE: Dan Hardy of the Austin Butterfly Forum confirms that this is indeed a dainty sulphur, Nathalis iole.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 8, 2012 at 5:39 AM

26 Responses

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  1. Hi Steven .. I think I’d call it a frosty dainty sulphur .. looks stunningly beautiful – well done on such a gorgeous photo – love its eyes and those tassels at the end of the antennae .. and then on a great named plant – kidneywood branch …

    Wonderful to see – cheers Hilary


    February 8, 2012 at 5:57 AM

    • Shakespeare wrote about painting the lily, which he counseled against, and now you’ve frosted the butterfly, which seems quite all right. Thanks for your addition.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 7:25 AM

  2. Steve, I wonder if it hatched early? Or is perhaps an aging holdover from the last generation in fall? Either way, its docility gave you a great opportunity – nice shot! I am always surprised to see how furry butterflies’ little faces and abdomens can be. ~Kyle


    February 8, 2012 at 6:26 AM

    • I suspect it did hatch early, along with many other small butterflies, because of the continuing warm temperatures. The furriness that you mentioned is an added pleasure.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 7:31 AM

  3. Great shot!


    February 8, 2012 at 6:32 AM

  4. The coloration reminds me of the fur on a cotton tail. So soft looking. Fabulous detail! I’m with Hilary too. I love its eyes! ~ Lynda


    February 8, 2012 at 7:20 AM

  5. It’s the sort of creature easily missed. Even the seemingly insignificant have beauty.

    The World Is My Cuttlefish

    February 8, 2012 at 7:32 AM

    • And this one could have been more easily missed than most; I’d say it wasn’t much more than half an inch long.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 7:38 AM

  6. Butterflies are less active in cool weather, perhaps it was cold out when you took this photo. I am jealous of the sights you see so early in the year. Another amazing photo, the clarity is spectacular!

    Bonnie Michelle

    February 8, 2012 at 8:10 AM

    • It was in the morning, relatively cool but by no means cold, and the ground was damp, so you may be right. As for clarity, this once-and-forever teacher is all for it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 9:14 AM

  7. I wanted to you know that I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger award, and certainly you deserve it. Please see my post from today at “Lens and Pens by Sally” to see the details. Congratulations, Sally

    Sally W. Donatello

    February 8, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    • Thanks so much, Sally. I’m glad to hear that your readers appreciate what you’re doing. You and I are fond of pictures as well as words: let there be plenty more of both from both.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 10:44 AM

  8. This is amazing Steven.
    Love the detail , specially in the eye.
    Te quedó espectacular!
    Un saludo!

    Pablo Buitrago

    February 8, 2012 at 12:00 PM

  9. It looks like a very small and fragile animal. I especially like the green eyes.


    February 8, 2012 at 1:52 PM

    • According to John and Gloria Tveten, this is the smallest of all North American species of white and sulphur butterflies. And yes, its eyes are something to behold.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 2:14 PM

  10. Super photo Steve…love the detail !!!


    February 8, 2012 at 1:53 PM

  11. Great detail, the eye, the antennae. Love the texture of the wings.

    Sheila T Illustrated

    February 8, 2012 at 9:24 PM

  12. I love to photograph insects, though they rarely stay still enough to get clarity up close. This is a stunning shot! Great patience on the part of the photographer, and perfect detail from the camera.


    February 12, 2012 at 8:43 PM

    • Thanks, Shannon. I can take some credit for holding the camera still, but most of the credit will have to go to friend butterfly for holding even stiller, and to the lens for its resolving power.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 12, 2012 at 10:02 PM

  13. Oh how lovely! I’m not familiar with that species, although I’m sure your ID is accurate. Did you check for emergence time? Those are pretty accurate, when there is doubt. In my years of monitoring I found that there were several species that would let you creep up close, which always added to the fun…although giving chase with a net was also fun 🙂

    At Illinois Beach State Park there are 2 species that come out very early~ in the next week or so, in fact; they are the hoary elfin, which relies on bearberry for its larval food, and the Olympia Marblewing, which is associated with Arabis lyrata.


    February 15, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    • Lovely it is, and dainty indeed: it’s the smallest of all North American species of white and sulphur butterflies. A member of the Austin Butterfly Forum confirmed the identification for me. I hope you see your two local “earlybirds” soon. I’ve never chased after a butterfly with a net: if it holds still for me, fine, and if not, c’est la vie.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 15, 2012 at 1:49 PM

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