May 17th on Raccoon Creek State Park’s Lake trail. A departure from almost all of our other posts, some will recognize what they see here and it will take a moment more for the majority of you?
Celastrina ladon is a tiny butterfly that flies early in the Spring (so its name) and is one of several Azure species found in the eastern tier of U.S. states.
On the trails that they prefer, it is easy to overlook them, as the fly away ahead of your approach. You will also encounter them as they fly over cut meadows, searching for clover and other small flowering plants. Overlook them and you are missing an intriguing butterfly, whose caterpillars, for example, are ant-tended. “Ant-tended?” Yep, their caterpillars are watched over by ants. Now why would ants do that? Azure caterpillars exude a sugary material…the ants value this unique source of nutrition, and so guard the caterpillars from harm’s way. And just how and when did that relationship get started?
That white material that these 3 are taking in through their proboscises? The uric acid in the waste dropped by a large bird. Huh? These butterflies that we see here are more than likely 3 males. Male Spring Azures spend most of their time flying. This extreme activity burns a great quantity of energy and causes much wear and tear of the proteins in their flight muscles. To replenish that energy and to replace those spend proteins…such butterflies need ready sources of the elements nitrogen, sulfur, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus,etc. So now you complete the puzzle. Why are these butterflies so focused on consuming the uric acid left by a bird? Neat huh?
In May and June Spring Azures begin to disappear from their habitat and the closely related Summer Azures take flight. Year after year after year.
So much to be learned about such a tiny, tiny winged beauty!