Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.
Went wandering in the yard this weekend and I caught a glimpse of an infrequent visitor to these parts – a Long-tailed Skipper, Urbanus proteus. Long-tailed Skippers are more common on our Coastal Plain and sometimes undergo northward and westward migrations (one-way, I presume) in late summer and fall. This is when we typically see them here in the Piedmont. I have seen them in our county once or twice every few years over the last decade or so.
This one was a very fresh-looking individual with tails intact and a bright blue-green color on the dorsal surface of its wings.
It was nectaring on the many Ironweed plants out front so I grabbed the camera and went out to follow it around the yard. It was mainly staying on one or two plants, but then suddenly wandered off, flitting around and alighting briefly on a variety of leaves. I recognized this as the flight of a female looking for suitable host plants on which to deposit her eggs. She will fly a lilting flight, touching down briefly to “taste” the plant with her feet (the location of some sensory cells that can detect plant chemicals). If it is not the right plant, she moves on. I wasn’t sure what the host plant was for this species so I continued to follow her as she searched. Finally, she stopped on a legume of some sort (Desmodium sp. perhaps?), tucked her abdomen for a few seconds, and flew off.
I moved over, flipped the leaf, and there it was, an egg! I am admittedly surprised to find an egg of this species this far inland, but maybe it is not as uncommon as I assume. The eggs are yellow and have some slight raised ribs coming upward from the base.
The freshness of this particular butterfly made me wonder if she had hatched from an egg here in the yard. I started looking at all the legumes I could find. I did find a couple of hatched eggs, but I am not 100% sure which species they are from, although they do resemble the general shape of those of the Long-tailed Skipper.
Seeing a couple of hatched eggs gave me hope that I might find a caterpillar for this species, one I have never seen. Spotting a leaf nest got me excited (I had googled the larval form of this species and saw that they form leaf nests by stitching a couple of leaves of their host pant together). I gently pulled it apart to reveal…a larva of a relative, the Silver-spotted Skipper.
Even though I was disappointed at not finding a new species of caterpillar, I must admit I always enjoy seeing the chunky little Silver-spotted Skipper larvae with those bright yellow fake eyes.
Though she stopped at a few other legume leaves, I could not find any other eggs. But, there is a good chance she laid some more so I will keep an eye out over the next few weeks to see if I can discover one of her fascinating larvae. Just before she disappeared, she stopped momentarily on a leaf in the sun, spread her wings, and soaked up a little warmth, giving me one last glimpse of this beautiful butterfly.
Thanks, Cathy….I love the visual surprise when you see the color on their dorsal surface.
This was fascinating. A question: When you pull the leaves apart of a nest, can they be resealed?
Thanks, Hilary. Good question. It doesn’t reseal itself,, so I usually just pull it apart enough to peek inside and the caterpillars can quickly reseal. I have had them move to a new leaf and build a new shelter when raising them and i pulled them apart to show visitors. I try to not disturb ones in the wild much, but, I must admit, was excited to look inside this one to possibly find a new species.
How wonderful to read about the long tail skipper. Especially since I have been watching the numerous silver spotted one’s on my .buddlia earlier today. I’m going right now to watch some more and maybe he lucky to see a long tail! I’m in Greensboro.
Good luck! I heard from a friend that it has been a banner year for Long-tailed Skippers and more are being seen inland than usual.
What a cute butterfly. I was having fun with a couple of Swallowtails, today and was lucky to catch a few shots of a Monarch.
The closeup of the purple flower…the curly petals resemble scissor grips.
Lucky you…have yet to see my first monarch here in the woods, but they are not very common here as we are surrounded by big woods and our yard is a relatively small hole in the canopy.
This was the first Monarch I’ve seen and it showed up in someone’s yard as I was walking to the Riverwalk. Gold Park’s butterfly garden is busy with Swallowtails (light & dark), hummingbirds, dragonflies and various bees. There is also a huge bee hotel.
I’m in Hillsborough if I haven’t already expressed that.
I’ve had them all over my beans this summer. I look forward to it every year, such gorgeous butterflies!
Thank you so much for all the information. What a great find.
Thanks, Barbara. Yes, I was excited to see such a fresh specimen in the yard.
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