Can’t tell if this Celastrina ladon is a male or a female. That determination awaits a peek at the upper surface of it wings, and this one was not interested in showing me its dorsal surface. We met on June 1, 2014. Just this morning, August 27, 2014, I was on the very same Nichol road trail at Raccoon Creek State Park, near my Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home. Tinier than your thumbnail (take a moment to gauge that), I met 6 or 7 Spring azures during my field exploration. I decided to photograph some 3 of them, and all would having nothing to do with that, flying fast to the high grass nearby. Males all, they had no time to spare, as they searched tirelessly for new mates.
Once and a while I puzzle over why we strive to save much larger butterflies whose numbers decrease steadily, pay little notice to Azure species, and our Azures endure just fine, each year greeting you on the trails, and escorting you to the next Azure down the trail. Today their escort work was less obvious, perhaps because in the waning days of August, procreation has become a driving instinct.
Our Azure shown here is most definitely a male, and he is ‘Pragmatic’ because all that flying, almost non-stop for hours, causes him to have to replenish those proteins that he burns out in his wing muscles. To do that, he needs certain raw materials, especially certain minerals. He’s standing on a cache of those precious minerals, and the ‘Pragmatic’ part is because . . . those minerals are abundant in that dark pile of scat (feces or ‘poop’). Yes, butterflies can be very practical.
I try to be at the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory as early as 8:30 AM. When I succeed at doing that (its 2.3 miles from home), I park, prepare my camera, and ready myself. Film loaded (Fuji slide), blousing garters on (a precaution – the same ones issued to me by Uncle Sam = they are among the best made things ever), 5-6 rolls of slide film at the ready, I enter the gardens area.
All that done, off I go. Who are among the first greeters waiting for me? Celastrina Neglecta. These pookies, as Michal would call them, are like the sirens that drew sailors to the rocks, only to be crushed. Why? We already have lots of images of Spring Azures (Celastrina Laden) and Celastrina Neglecta, but I want even better ones. So, for 0.05 seconds I debate the use of precious film to seek 10 to 20 shots of this darling. You see the result.
August 21st and here’s the best of that lot. Wingspan of 1″. Wherever I happen to photograph, there are never other people. When others do happen to come along, wherever I may be, Phipps, National Wildlife Refuges, Toronto, wherever, I watch to see if they have a look at the butterflies that flee from their path. They almost never do. Almost all people neglect to stop and examine these tiny Azures, so dainty and so finely marked. Nor do I see curiosity about the commas, red-spotted purples and other butterflies that also avoid giant soles of shoes as they come crashing down on trail. I am amazed to this day that more folks don’t want to savor the beauty that is within reach.
Like the elderly street-minders in Chinese cities, the Azures insure that you pass their stretch of trail safely, and then pass you off to the next trail monitor. You’re not alone on the trail from as early as March, through September.
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 and 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!
It’s not every day that you encounter a Spring Azure butterfly displaying its dorsal(upper) wings. It was that productive early morning sun-basking time. The forest is still quite cold on a May 16th night, and the warmth of the sun is needed to get those wings moving fast enough to evade dangers. Once they can fly at full-speed, they are off to nectar and consider other options. They’re seen on trails, where disturbed ground meets treed habitat. They’re those tiny little ones that fly up as you approach and either advance up trail or zip into nearby vegetation. As Spring ebbs, they are replaced by the closely related Summer Azures.
Here we see again tiny dainties that fly with intact wings despite the perils all around them. Fascinating, no?
Academically, how much do we know about the population dynamics of Spring Azures, their future or their habitat pressures?