Nature: Butterflies and Moths

California Sister (Family Nymphalidae, the Brush-footed Butterflies)

When you first see a California Sister you are liable to think “that butterfly looks like it is made of candy!” The bright orange-yellow spot at the outer end of the front wing, the bright white bands and spots on both wings, and the other beautifully arranged blue, yellow, orange and brown markings indeed give the feeling of a mixture of butterscotch, caramel, white taffy and brown chocolates.

The California Sister is found not only in California, but in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico, and may really be thought of as a tropical or semi-tropical butterfly that moved up from the south into California as that state became warmer after the great glaciers retreated. You see, the Sister moved into only those parts of the southwest where it is warm and sunny for most of the year, avoiding the foggy coasts, the dark forests and the high mountains. It’s love of sunlight is shown by the way it likes to sit on a high leaf of some tree and bask in the sun’s rays, luxuriously lifting its wings in slow sweeps that expose every part to the wonderful warmth.

The caterpillars feed on western oak trees, which also helps explain the distribution of this butterfly, for it also avoids the really hot deserts and is common mainly where the oak tress are common. In the early winter, the caterpillar acts like its cousins, the white admiral caterpillars or Basilarchias. It curls a leaf around itself, like a snug-little sleeping bag, and goes into a long sleep until spring comes.

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