Cochise County Insects: “Puddling” Sleepy Orange (Abaeis Nicippe) Butterflies at the Paloma Trail Wash

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Okay, about the Abaeis nicippe classification. Sleepy Orange butterflies were formerly called Euroma nicippe. Puddling in Cochise County is one thing, getting scientists to agree on taxonomy quite another. Besides which, several of the sulphur butterflies apparently cross-breed with each other rather easily, producing a significant number of hybrids that are flat-out hard to identify with any certainty. Even without hybridization, the Sleepy Orange and Orange Sulphur and Clouded Sulphur versions look enough alike to befuddle the casual eye, though the Clouded Sulphur tends to have distinctly yellow, not orange, dorsal wing surfaces.

What’s puddling, you ask?

Picture a puddle. Add a hundred or more butterflies gathered cheek-by-jowl…well, maybe butterflies don’t really have jowls. But they do huddle up really closely together when puddling, pulling moisture from moist earth if there’s no actual puddle. It’s pretty amazing they can get back into the air without having horrible collisions on takeoff.

They do it, though. One of their favorite places for a puddle huddle is the wash on Paloma Trail. After a rain, there are always a few low spots in the bottom of the wash that hold water, or at least damp dirt, for a while. I got some photos the other day, thinking to write a post about these winged beauties in conference, but the distance was too far. Blowing the photos up produced low res pictures that weren’t worth publishing. The butterflies–not all of which were Sleepy Orange types, though most of them were–seemed to be way too wary to let me approach close enough to get really good photos. Besides, I had places to go, people to see, things to do.

Today was a different story. Returning home from town, I was running ahead of schedule. The puddling bugs were in session. Most importantly, lo and behold, they weren’t easily spooked. I was able to approach to within three feet of their huddle without stirring them up much at all. I went home, grabbed the camcorder, and returned.
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There was a whole lot of blessing going on. For some hours, the sun had been well hidden behind clouds–but just as I was parking the truck, preparing to walk down into the wash to camcord the little beauties and take still photos as well, said sun popped back out into full view. It was not far from sunset, the slanting rays of sunshine providing dramatic color contrasts in sunlight and in shade.

A photographer could ask for no better.

Easy ID for Sleepy Orange butterflies:  Look for the orange dorsal (upper) wing surfaces with thick black borders, plus small black "dots", one to each forewing.

Easy ID for Sleepy Orange butterflies: Look for the orange dorsal (upper) wing surfaces with thick black borders, plus small black marks, one to each forewing.

When not flying, the Sleepy Orange folds its wings--which, depending on the light, may appear yellow orange or even...

When not flying, the Sleepy Orange folds its wings–which, depending on the light, may appear yellow orange or even…

...vivid lime green.

…vivid lime green.

I was still parked in the wash, before making the journey home to retrieve the camcorder, when one of the neighbors arrived on his ATV. I pulled on up out of the wash and moved over to let him by, whereupon he grinned and pointed out, “They’re only butterflies!”

Why, yes. Yes, they are.

Of course, some of those butterflies in the puddle huddle were likely keeping an eye on us and telling their buddies, “They’re only humans!” It’s all in your perspective.

Ah. Here’s one that shows the small black marks on the forewings fairly well.

The butterfly in flight is identifiable as a Sleepy Orange by the small black mark near the leading edge of each forewing and also by the wide black edging on the wings.

The butterfly in flight is identifiable as a Sleepy Orange by the small black mark near the leading edge of each forewing and also by the wide black edging on the wings.

All righty then. Enough chit-chat. Next, a few more photos, sans text.

Orange Sulphur Butterflies 216

Orange Sulphur Butterflies 202

Orange Sulphur Butterflies 196

Orange Sulphur Butterflies 275

Orange Sulphur Butterflies 268

Orange Sulphur Butterflies 257

Orange Sulphur Butterflies 253

Orange Sulphur Butterflies 249

Orange Sulphur Butterflies 246

Orange Sulphur Butterflies 244

Orange Sulphur Butterflies 235

Orange Sulphur Butterflies 234

4 thoughts on “Cochise County Insects: “Puddling” Sleepy Orange (Abaeis Nicippe) Butterflies at the Paloma Trail Wash

  1. They may just be butterflies, but they are a miracle. I have always loved to watch them. I found a Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar when I was about 10. I put it in a big two gallon jar with some branches, grass, and leaves. It turned into a cocoon and I watched it in anticipation until it hatched. One of the wings didn’t straighten out and so I had a butterfly that could not fly. I put it on the bushes every day so it could feed, and had a great time with my butterfly pet. It would climb onto my hand and allow me to transport it to the jar when it was done. I had it until late into the Fall. I think it lived a little longer because it did not get exposed to the weather and the hungry birds.

  2. That, Becky, is an awesome story. When I was growing up on the ranch in Montana, we considered the Tiger Swallowtail to be the Super Spectacle of all butterfly happenings. We didn’t see one every year there, but when we did, it was memorable.

  3. They’re just butterflies?! I think it’s amazing that you were able to see and capture so many in one spot. Here in Florida, we see maybe two or three at a time. To witness something like this is truly awesome!

  4. Pretty cool, huh? When we went to town today, there were three batches of them puddling at different spots in the wash.

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