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A West Virginia White. Photo by Kevin Hemeon.
A West Virginia White. Photo by Kevin Hemeon.

Heard Up North: Tracking the elusive West Virginia White

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If there's an upside to this season's devastating weather, it's that we feel an even greater appreciation for the more benevolent signs of spring and summer. Butterflies are one of those welcome sights, and many early-season species are starting to take flight.

For this Heard Up North, Angela Evancie met up with Kevin Hemeon at Park McCullough's Mile-Around-Woods in North Bennington, Vermont to look for a rare butterfly called the West Virginia White. Hemeon is a butterfly enthusiast - he contributed more than 2,000 records to a state butterfly survey that was recently released by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. (Hemeon didn't spot any butterflies on this outing, but at least it wasn't raining.)

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Hi, I’m Kevin Hemeon.  I’m from Hoosick Falls, N.Y.  They call me Sweet Nectar (laughs).

I didn’t really know butterflies all that well when I started, but I learned as I went.  Because I do a lot of landscaping and so forth too, I know plants really well.  And one of my strengths for finding things was finding patches of the larval plants.  Because if you can find them, you’ll find the butterfly.

West Virginia Whites are native to North America.  They’re really specific on the host plants that they use.  It’s toothwort, is the common name for it.

West Virginia Whites, like I was saying before, are really a forest butterfly.  They don’t like to fly out into open areas.  I’d call it a medium sized butterfly.  It looks like the Cabbage Whites, but it’s Cabbage Whites have black on the tip of the wings, and a black spot on the forewing.  West Virginia has clear white.

See I’m having a tough time finding the larva – the toothwort right now.  Oh, here’s some.  Right here, this leaf – three leaves, scalloped.  Basically, you know, if the butterfly were still flying around…If you look, the leaves that are being eaten, sometimes you can get lucky.  The caterpillars would hang out down underneath, and they’d be small and green to blend in.

Right now the caterpillars have hatched out.  They’re feeding, and they’re trying to mature before July when this plant goes dormant.  And then once that happens, they pupate, and then they just rest until the next spring, and then emerge as the adults and start the cycle over again.

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