Lycaenid Butterfly Family

Lycaenidae Butterfly Family

Common Blue Butterfly | Tailed Copper Butterfly | Great Purple Hairstreak Butterfly

The Lycaenidae Family of butterflies are the second largest family of butterflies in the world consisting of over 6000 species. Members of this family are also called the ‘gossamer winged butterflies’. They represent around 40% of all known butterfly species.

The family is traditional divided into the subfamilies of:
the blues (Polyommatinae),
the coppers (Lycaeninae),
the hairstreaks (Theclinae) and
the harvesters (Miletinae).

Adults are small, usually under 5 centimetres in length. They are brightly coloured, sometimes with a metallic gloss. The males forelegs are reduced in size and lack claws.

Larvae are often flattened rather than cylinder shaped, with glands that can produce secretions that attract and subdue ants. Their cuticles tend to be thickened. Some larva are capable of producing vibrations and low sounds that are transmitted through the plants. They use these sounds to communicate with ants.

Lycaenids are diverse in their food habits and apart from phytophagy, some of them are entomophagous (the practice of eating insects as food) feeding on aphids and ant larvae. Some of them are also associated with ants and are fed by ants. Not all Lycaenidae butterflies need ants, but about 75% of species associate with them. In some species, larvae are attended and protected by ants while feeding on the host plant and the ants receive sugar-rich honeydew from them throughout the larval life.

Common Blue Butterfly

Common Blue Butterfly

The Common Blue Butterfly (Polyommatus icarus) is a small butterfly in the family Lycaenidae. Male uppersides are an iridescent lilac blue with a thin black border. Females are brown with a row of red spots along the edges. They usually have some blue at the base of the wings and species in Ireland and Scotland are mostly blue but always have the red spots.

Undersides are a greyish colour in the males and more brownish in the females. Both male and female Common Blue Butterfly have a row of red spots along the edge of the hindwings (extending onto the forewings though generally fainter, particularly in the males where they are sometimes missing altogether). There are about a dozen black centred white spots on the hind wings, nine on the forewings. The Common Blue Butterfly has a white fringe on the outer wing.

The Common Blue Butterfly is Britains (and probably Europes) most common and most widespread blue butterfly, found as far north as Orkney and on most of the Outer Hebrides. Males are often very obvious as they defend territories against rivals and search out the more reclusive females. They inhabit grassland habitats such as meadows, coastal dunes, woodland clearings and also many man made habitats, anywhere where their food plants are found. The Common Blue Butterfly is widespread in Europe, North Africa and temperate Asia.

The Common Blue Butterflys main food plant is Birds foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). Others include Black Medick (Medicago lupulina), Common Restharrow (Ononis repens), White Clover (Trifolium repens) and Lesser Trefoil (Trifolium dubium). Eggs are laid singly on young shoots of their food plants.

The caterpillar is small, pale green with yellow stripes and rather slug-like. Hibernation occurs as a half grown larvae. They are attractive to ants but not as much as some other species of blues. The chrysalis is olive green/brown and formed on the ground where it is attended by ants which will often take it into their nests. The larvae creates a substance called honey dew, which the ants eat while the butterfly lives in the ant hill. In the south of Britain there are two broods a year flying in May and June and again in August and September. Northern England has one brood flying between June and September. In a long warm year there is sometimes a partial third brood in the south flying into October.

Tailed Copper Butterfly

Tailed Copper Butterfly

The Tailed Copper Butterfly (Lycaena arota) is coloured in rich varying tones of brown and has a distinctive orange horseshoe pattern on the top of the fore wing on the female.

The Tailed Copper Butterfly resembles a Hairstreak Butterfly when its wings are closed.

The Tailed Copper Butterfly is found in Chaparral/scrub as well as California Sage brush and Oak Woodland plant communities. It is often the most abundant butterfly in upper Silverado Canyon, Orange County in California around late June.

The Tailed Copper Butterfly has tail-like projections on its hindwings which distinguishes it from other similar coloured copper butterflies. Their forewings measure around 12 – 14 millimetres in length.

Tailed Copper Butterflies frequently nectar at buckwheat blossoms (Eriogonum fasciculatum). The adults often stop to sip water and other nutrients from wet sand or mud along streams, a phenomenon known as ‘mud puddling’. Easy to catch, the males often perch on branches of manzanita which grow along open paths and roads.

It has been observed that territorial behaviour is apparent in the Tailed Copper Butterfly, however, no butterfly has actually been known to hold a territory against intruders in the same way a territorial vertebrate would. It is more than likely the butterfly is simply perching in a particular location and investigating passing objects in hope of encountering a receptive female Tailed Copper.

The flight period of the Tailed Copper Butterfly is usually from late May into July.

The Tailed Copper Butterfly larvae feeds in the garden on Ribes species, Currents and Gooseberries. It especially likes Ribes areum gracillimum (very similar to Ribes aureum aureum but has yellow flowers that turn red. They are both forms of Golden currant).

Males of this species emerge one or more weeks before the females. The male larvae seem to grow faster and pupate earlier than the females.

Great Purple Hairstreak Butterfly

Great Purple Hairstreak Butterfly

The Great Purple Hairstreak Butterfly (Atlides halesus), also called the great blue hairstreak, is a common North American butterfly.

The Great Purple Hairstreak Butterfly is one of the most beautiful butterflies in southern parts of North America.

Although it is most commonly known as the great purple hairstreak, it has no purple on it. The brilliant iridescent scales on the upper surface of the wings from which it gets its name are blue not purple.

The wingspread of the adult is 14 to 24 millimetres (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches). The upper sides of the wings are iridescent blue with black borders. Each hind wing has two black tails (hairstreaks). The undersides of the wings are brown with a series of white and yellow spots on the margin of the hind wings at the bases of the tails. The undersides of the wings have three basal, bright red spots (one on the front and two on the hind wings). The underside of the abdomen is bright red.

There are many flights by the Great Purple Hairstreak Butterfly from March to November in the northern part of the range and year round in Florida and south Texas. Males perch on treetops during the afternoon to await the arrival of females for mating

The larvae (Caterpillars) feed on mistletoe (Phoradendron) species. When full-grown, larvae migrate from the mistletoe and pupate in crevices at the base of the tree, under bark, or may wander onto adjacent buildings for pupation. Sometimes the larvae is attacked by parasites such as the parasitoid wasp larvae or by tachinid fly larvae and adult wasps or flies emerge from the pupal case instead of the butterfly.

As with the other hairstreak butterflies, perching adults move their hind wings up and down. The tails on the hind wings with their associated spots resemble a head. The movement of the tails is believed to attract a potential predators attention to that part of the wings which then is torn away allowing the butterfly to escape.

The Great Purple Hairstreak Butterflys habitats are mostly moist hardwood forests, bottomlands, swamps and trees having Mistletoe nearby as this is its larvae host plant.