Every now and then, actually somewhat regularly, I am asked what is my favorite butterfly. Many people would assume the Monarch. Afterall, I spent six years in Arizona studying their migratory habits. By the way, the scientific paper should be coming out any day now in the Journal of the Lepidopterist Society!
Other people assume it is the beautiful Blue Morpho. I work with those butterflies everyday at work and for 90% of the people who pass through the butterfly room, that is their favorite.
No, actually my favorite group of butterflies are rarely seen by non-butterfly nerds. Normally you find them in wooded openings, at least here in the east. They are also very small. You could have one nectar on the flower directly in front of you and most likely you'd never notice it. My favorite group of butterflies are the hairstreaks.
Within the hairstreaks it is hard to pick out a favorite. They are all cute as a bug's ear! They are very colorful and are full of personality. They are very territorial and do not hesitate to chase other butterflies and creatures much larger than themselves. They are all very interesting.
Several of them have this crazy relationship with ants. The hairstreak caterpillars excrete a sugary substance called honeydew. The ants use this substance for food. Therefore the ants essentially farm the caterpillars, protecting them from predators. This relationship is called myrmecophily.
But if I had to pick one to be my favorite, it would be the Xami Hairstreak. Why you ask? The Xami is very rare in the United States, found only in a handful of places in the southwest. And I happened to discover one of those places.
Imagine my excitement one day out doing my job at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, Arizona and I see this little butterfly, barely as big as your thumbnail. At first I thought it was Juniper Hairstreak but the color didn't seem right. I then considered Xami Hairstreak and emailed friend Jim Brock with a photo. Jim confirmed my identification.
The Arboretum had been in existence at that time for about 75 years, and nobody had ever documented the Xami Hairstreak there. Is it that I am some kind of great butterfly whisperer? No, not at all. At a glance I thought I saw something unusual and looked into it more deeply.
What kind of great discoveries are waiting to be made in your own backyard, discoveries waiting simply for somebody to notice them. Great discoveries do not require expensive equipment or incredible knowledge, just somebody paying attention! Enjoy the hairstreak gallery below!
From left: Banded Hairstreak (OH), Coral Hairstreak(OH), Edwards Hairstreak (OH), Great Purple Hairstreak (AZ), Red-banded Hairstreak (OH), Silver-banded Hairstreak (AZ), Juniper Hairstreak (AZ).