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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - August 19, 2009

From: Crossville, TN
Region: Southeast
Topic: Butterfly Gardens
Title: Yellow butterfly in Tennessee
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I live in Crossville Tenn and am seeing a butterfly that is yellow with a long hanging. What is it and what is it doing?

ANSWER:

Well, Mr. Smarty Plants knows a lot about native plants, but he is no expert on insects.  However, he can tell you that yellow butterflies in North America are in the Family Pierideae (whites and yellows) and are often called sulphurs.  There are lots of different species so there is no way I could tell you which of the sulphurs you saw.  Now, about the long hanging you saw—it could be the butterfly's proboscis, it's feeding structure that works sort of like a straw.  When the butterfly is not feeding, the proboscis is curled near the mouth.  You can see the proboscis curled and uncurled for feeding at this link.  Butterflies also have 6 legs that hang down and female butterflies use the ovipositor at the end of their long abdomen to lay eggs on host plants.  Other than these possibilities, I think I would need to see a photo to determine what the long hanging is and what the butterfly is doing.
 

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