Butterfly Briefs: Blues & Hairstreaks (family Lycaenidae)
Henry’s Elfin (Callophrys henrici) is a small, inconspicuous butterfly that flies at the same time that its caterpillar host plant - eastern redbud - is flowering. Yet another reason to enjoy redbud season!
Look for it on or near redbud trees, where males may be found perching on the lookout for passing females and both sexes may be found nectaring on the pretty flowers. They are probably more common than their records on iNaturalist indicate, being inconspicuous and having a relatively short flight season, but finding one is always a treat!
For more about the Henry’s Elfin, visit www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Callophrys-henrici
The Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) is a small butterfly, light gray underneath and dark gray above, with an orange spot and small tails. Gray Hairstreaks are similar to the much more common Eastern Tailed-Blue but are slightly larger and have a different pattern of spots and lines below. Adults can be found in open areas getting nectar from a wide variety of flowers.
Their caterpillars feed on a large number of different plants – more than any other butterfly in North America – but primarily use plants from the pea (Fabaceae) and mallow (Malvaceae) families, such as clovers and mallows. Gray Hairstreaks can be found across the entire United States.
When perched, Gray Hairstreaks often slowly move their hindwings against each other, which in combination with the light orange spot, likely resemble a head with antennae to potential predators and may cause them to direct their attacks to the hairstreak’s wings instead of their more vulnerable head.
For more about the gray hairstreak, visit https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/gray-hairstreak
The Eastern Tailed-Blue (Cupido comyntas) is a thumbnail-sized, inconspicuous butterfly that flutters to-and-fro low over lawns and other low vegetation from spring to fall. On their upper sides, males are bright blue females are gray; both sexes are silver below with black spots throughout and orange dots on the edge of the hindwing. They also have small “tails” that they often move back and forth while sitting, possibly imitating insect antennae to redirect predator strikes to a more harmless part of their body than their head. They usually perch with their wings closed but may open them to show their beautiful upper sides when sunning themselves.
The other small, blue butterflies they may be easily confused with are the Spring and Summer Azure and the Gray Hairstreak.. Azures are lighter blue and tend to fly relatively high instead of low over the ground like the Eastern Tailed-Blue. Gray Hairstreaks are slightly larger and have a different pattern of spots and lines below.
Adult Eastern Tailed-Blues get nectar from small, low-growing flowers such as clover, while the caterpillars feed on white clover and sweet clover leaves. Males frequently ‘puddle’ on wet mud and gravel to get salts for reproduction.
For more about the eastern tailed-blue, visit www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Cupido-comyntas
The Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) is a tiny, beautiful, bright blue (on its upperside) butterfly seen flying in or near woods in early spring, often seeming to never land, especially if you are trying to get a photo! Spring and Summer Azures are very difficult to tell apart and may overlap in their flight times in spring. Azures seen in summer and fall are more certainly Summer Azures.
Azures may also be easily confused with the Eastern Tailed-Blue.. Azures are lighter blue and tend to fly relatively high instead of low over the ground like the Eastern Tailed-Blue.
For more about the spring azure, visit www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Celastrina-ladon