Skies filled with butterflies

A Great Southern White Butterfly perches on a leaf.

While most of Cayman’s residents remain hunkered down in their homes, thousands of white-winged butterflies have taken to the air in a fleeting dance of courtship.

The life of the Great Southern White butterfly (Ascia monuste) begins in a cluster of about 20 eggs which are normally laid on the upper side of host plants. After about four days, green caterpillars, with two purple stripes running from head to tail, hatch and begin their search for food.

They gorge themselves on wild weeds, such as Spanish needle and latana, which grow abundantly along the roadsides. Once they reach about four inches long, the caterpillars seek a high, secluded place to enclose themselves in cocoons, and await a transformation that can take up to 17 days.

Once complete, the butterflies emerge. Males are white and often have a thin set of black stripes at the top of their wings. Females appear in a variety of shades, from off-white to light grey. With a wingspan that stretches between 1.75 and 2.25 inches, the butterflies gather in clusters that allow them to stand out easily against Cayman’s lush green flora.

After taking one final meal of nectar, the brief courtship begins. Male butterflies only live for five days, while the female butterflies can live for twice as long. Once a pair has mated, the females search out a host plant to lay their eggs, and the 31-day cycle begins again.

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