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The Ultimate Guide to the Outdoors and Environment in Broward, Collier, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties.
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Great Southern White Butterfly
Ascia monsute
Southern White Butterfly
Great Southern white butterfly, photographed at Halpatiokee Regional Park, Stuart, Martin County, in April 2015.
Southern White Butterfly

This guy, the great southern white butterfly, could be coming to a wedding near you. The great southern, known to the scientific community as Ascia monsute, is one of the most commonly used butterflies for releases at weddings. Can't say that we've seen that first hand, don't have a clue as to why, but if it's on the internet, it must be true.

It does make a certain sense if you think about it. The great southern looks white as it flutters about (less so when perched on a leaf) and it is among the more common butterflies in Florida. Perched on a leaf with its wings fold up, however, the great white reminds us of the inside of an oyster shell, with its subtle hues.

It's a relatively large butterfly, with a wingspan that can exceed three inches. Males and females are the same size; males are mostly white with a black edge along the apex of the forewing; in the dry season, females are similar. In the wet season, they become much, much darker. One cool feature of the great southern: the torquoise clubs atop their attenna, easily seen in the photograph at the left.

The southeastern United States is the northern most point of the range of this butterfly. Great southern whites can be found along the south Atlantic and Gulf coasts into Mexico, through the Caribbean, Central America and into South America. Great southern whites have been known to stray occasionally as far north as Maryland and as far west as Colorado.

Southern White Butterfly

Plants in the mustard family, including cabbage and virginia pepper, serve as host plants for great southern caterpillars. Females will lay as many as 20 eggs on the upper surfaces of leaves of the host, either singly or in small clusters.

Once they hatch, the young great southern whites begin chomping away at the host plant's leaves. Eggs are yellow; mature larvae, or caterpillars, are yellow with gray stripes that wrap around the body and small black spots. Adults find the nectar of verbena and lantana and a few other flowers to be quite tasty.

In Florida, great southern whites are in flight, or active, throughout the year and produce multiple generations. Favored habitats include salt marshes, coastal dunes, open fields and gardens.

Great southern whites are members of the Pieridae, a family of white and sulphur butterflies, with 1,100 species mostly found in tropical places around the globe.

Photographs by David Sedore
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.