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DOE explains white butterflies’ summertime swarms

Swarms of white butterflies are taking over some parts of Cayman. The Department of Environment told Cayman 27 these population explosions are part of the natural cycle.

If you’ve been outdoors lately, chances are you’ve seen one, or more, of these white butterflies fluttering around.

“They are called the great southern white, they very often swarn in the summertime, but is not necessarily a very specific time of year,” said DOE Terrestrial Resources Unit Manager Fred Burton.

He told Cayman 27 the great southern white, like all butterflies, starts as a caterpillar, and these caterpillars have a taste for a certain delicacy.

“They are really really focused on this vine, capparis flexuosa, it’s called in technical terms, raw bones. It’s called raw bones because it has these fruits that look a little bit like beans, and when they opened up, there’s a bright bright red pulp inside with white seeds, and it looks a little gory,” said Mr. Burton.

Mr. Burton told Cayman 27 these caterpillars can be abundant in parts of East End.

“You listen, and you think it is raining, but it is not raining,” described Mr. Burton. “It’s the sound of one million caterpillars and their droppings are falling on the leaf litter. And you think OK, when this lot hatches there’s going to be some butterflies, and sure enough, it’s like boom.”

However, Mr. Burton said this year’s ‘boom’ is not as impressive as in years past.

For those who marvel at the sight of these white butterflies dancing in the breeze, Mr. Burton says enjoy it while it lasts.

“They go through these big population booms and then they are down at low levels and you see the odd one,” he said.

Mr. Burton highly recommends the book “Butterflies of the Cayman Islands” for those interested in learning more about the great southern white and other local species. It’s available for sale at the National Trust.

About the author

Joe Avary

Joe Avary

Joe Avary has been with Cayman 27 since 2014. He brings 20 years in television experience to the job, working hard every day to bring the people of Cayman stories that inform the public and make a difference in the community. Joe hopes his love for the Cayman Islands shines through in his informative and entertaining weather reports. If you have a story idea for Joe or just want to say hello, call him at 324-2141 or send an email to

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