Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dark Butterflies-creates confusion

With so many dark brown or black butterflies flitting about it can be quite confusing to tell one from another. I admit to having much difficulty in that area. Between the grass skippers and these dark beauties it is enough to make even a seasoned Lepidopterist go batty. Looking for subtle markings on the specimen is helpful, but often times that is easier said than done. The three pictured here are examples of some of the darker "spread-wing skippers" you will likely find in Missouri. By no means is this all of them.
#1 Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)
#2 Hayhurst's Scallopwing(Staphylus hayhurstii)
#3 Common Sootywing ( Pholisora catullus)
Each of these are in the family Hesperiidae, this family of butterflies includes all skippers. From the grass skippers to the spread-wing skippers pictured here. They can be found in various habitats. The Northern Cloudywing has a broad range and is found throughout most of the United States. I had trouble identifying this one and thanks to a friend of mine Betsy Betros (author of Butterflies of Kansas City) I now have an accurate ID. She said that the pattern of this species can vary by individual further complicating an already complicated set of butterflies. They grow to about 1 7/8 inches. Adults nectar at blue, pink, purple, and white flowers. This will include dogbane, selfseal, crown vetch, Thistles and common milkweed as well as a variety of others. The caterpillar host is plants in the pea family. Look for the caterpillars on beggars tick, clover, lotus, bush clovers and others.These butterflies can be found near forested areas. The Hayhurst's can be found in gardens, sunlit openings in woods, along roadsides and along walking trails. The caterpillar of this species feeds on Lambs Quarter and goosefoot. Adults will take nectar from many kinds of flowers including, marigold, knotweed, dogbane, spearmint, cucumber, sweet clover and loads of others. When disturbed they will typically head for vegetation and hide within shrubs or bushes. Distinguishing characteristics of this species are two tiny translucent spots on the forewing. The wings are scalloped, and fringe is checkered with black and tan. The next is the Common Sootywing, it is more widespread than the Hayhurst. Look for them in meadows, along crop fields, roadsides, gardens, prairies, anywhere the host plant can be found. The young caterpillars feed on Cockscomb and Lambs Quarter. Adults nectar from flowers including milkweed, oxalis, clovers and peppermint. This particular species is the darkest of all the sootywings, and grow to about 1 5/16 of inch. The distinguishes characteristics of this species are the white markings on the back of the head and the small white spots on the outer portion of the forewing. Females will have more white than the males. Black butterflies are somewhat cryptic, making it hard to see them. While they do not have the dramatic coloring of some of the more well known and beloved butterflies we are all familiar with, there is a certain beauty about them in their subtleness.

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