Wednesday, June 26, 2013


When it comes to glamorous butterflies, large swallowtails and fritillaries get all the attention.  It is easy to overlook some of the tiny species fluttering a few inches off the ground, nectaring on flowers almost too small to see.  On close examination, these have their own beauty.

Tiny brown butterflies were almost the only thing flying the other day, soil colored and hard to see in the tall grass.  Swinging the net through the weeds I came up with a mixture of grass seeds, gnats and ticks and one lone butterfly.

It was a Banded Hairstreak, Satyrium calanus, easy to ignore with a wingspan of only 1.5 inches.  Examined closely, it has two tiny tails on each hindwing, one long and one short.  There are several hairstreak butterflies with similar markings but the banded hairstreak has a pale blue spot on the hindwing tip which lacks an orange center spot.

The Banded Hairstreak can be found this time of year hanging out like this one on shrubs, waiting for females to fly by like college students sitting along the campus walks.  (I am probably dating myself with this analogy in the age of Facebook and Twitter).  Their eggs are laid on oaks, hickories and walnuts where their larvae will eat the leaves and catkins, then overwinter in the chrysalis before hatching next spring.

Walking a trail with an expert like Phil Koenig of BAMONA*, I am amazed with his ability to identify these tiny butterflies in flight on the basis of a distant glance, their habitat and flight patterns.  Much like birds, they have their distinct behavioral characteristics, but without the identifiable songs and calls.  (No help there - I can't identify bird calls either.)

Another species flying now is the Northern Pearly-eye, Enodia anthedon.
In addition to the distinctive eyespots with the central white "iris" which gives it its name, there is a black band just below the white tip of the antennae club.

Northern Pearly-eye
After hanging in the bushes looking for ladies, they mate and the eggs are laid on a variety of grasses.  After three moults (see the last blog) the final instar of the caterpillar overwinters before forming a chrysalis and emerging as an adult.  Surviving the winter as a fragile caterpillar seems a bit risky but they apparently know what they are doing, as there are a lot of them flying right now.

Like some other butterflies and some notorious celebrities, Pearly-eyes are beautiful but lacking in good taste.  Instead of seeking out delicious sweet nectar, they feed on tree sap, rotting fruit, dung and carrion.  This sounds like a story in "People Magazine," doesn't it?

If you have never used BAMONA, I would encourage you to try it.  In addition to identification information, you can send in your pictures and even submit data to record species not previously identified in your county.  It is like bird watching with nets.

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