Female nectaring on purple trailing lantana.
Female nectaring on purple trailing lantana.
(Photo Credit: Rob Wu)

A rare butterfly made an appearance outside the White Sands Missile Range Environmental Division’s Pollinator Garden last month.

Rob Wu, Environmental Consultant and Illustrator with WUCO Arts & Sciences, who works as a contractor with the Environmental Division of the Directorate of Public Works at WSMR, captured a photo of a female Florida White Butterfly in the Pollinator Garden.

Wu said the sighting in the Pollinator Garden is only the second Florida White documented in New Mexico. The other state record is from Silver City in June 1971. That was 50 years ago.

Steve Carey, a renowned expert on butterflies of New Mexico, confirmed the Florida White via photos.

“Our recent visitor to the Pollinator Garden at Building 163--a female Florida White (Appias drusilla) --is a neotropical butterfly species of the family Pieridae that is found mostly in Mexico; however, it may range as far south as Brazil and as far north as the U.S.,” Wu said.

Wu said the Florida White is a frequent visitor to some areas of coastal Texas and South Florida; however, in most other areas of the U.S. it is considered a rare stray.

“Prevailing climate and weather conditions likely contribute to such incursions by exotic visitors. I was lucky to observe this one here at Building 163 because I decided to do a circuit through the garden during the few minutes that it happened to be passing through. Five minutes earlier or later, and it would have gone unnoticed.”

Wu said the Department of Defense is also interested in conserving pollinators, in general. Pollinators enable the transfer of pollen among plants through their daily activities. An estimated 75-95% of flowering plants rely on at least some assistance with pollination. Recent research indicates that many pollinator species are in decline. More information on how DoD works to promote and protect pollinators can be found here: https://www.denix.osd.mil/nr/focus-areas/biodiversity/pollinators/index.html

This sighting makes 102 butterfly species on WSMR. Wu said their best estimate is that 150-200 butterfly species reside on or near WSMR.

“Our list of 102 documented species relies heavily on the work of Mr. Cary, who contributed generously to the knowledge of butterfly fauna on WSMR by sharing his field observations of more than 60 species of butterflies on WSMR between 2002-13.”