Southern Agenda

All Aflutter

When the Mountain State’s ephemeral wildflowers burst into bloom from March to May, they invite a special guest: the West Virginia white butterfly. Not to be confused with the common cabbage white, this fifty-cent-piece-size woodland butterfly with cream-white wings tinged in smoky gray emerges just once a year. “There’s a lot happening for this species in the course of roughly a month,” says Jakob Goldner, a conservation entomologist with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. “The adults have to emerge, fly around, get nectar, reproduce, lay eggs, and then the caterpillars have to hatch, grow, and then create their chrysalises before those plants die.” Then, the insect remains in the chrysalis, tucked into leaf litter on the forest floor, until next spring. The butterfly faces many threats: overgrazing by deer, forest fragmentation, climate change affecting its timing, and invasive garlic mustard, which resembles legitimate host plants like toothworts and fools the adults into laying eggs on it. But for now, populations still thrive in Monongahela National Forest in the Allegheny Mountains and Kanawha State Forest—look for a flash of white fluttering at knee-to-waist height among native violets.