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Filed under Outdoor Notes

December 9, 2011

There is a  family of very small butterflies known as the Blues, which includes a group called Azures (genus Celastrina). They are complex.

They didn’t used to be.

When I first learned about butterflies, I only remember one Azure, the Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon).1  Since those early days, a lot of research has been done, with the result that there are now a possible nine different Azures, which apparently can’t be told apart in the field, at least not with any degree of certitude.

Azure nectaring at violet

Azure nectaring on violet, 20 April, 2010, Dix Hill, Perry Co.

Now, all of the photos in this Note were taken in Perry, Mifflin, or Juniata Counties, Pennsylvania.  So, we can eliminate the Echo Azure (C. echo), which is a western species. We can eliminate the Hops Azure (C. humulus); it lives along the Rockies. We can probably eliminate the Holly Azure (C. idella), which is supposed to be limited to the Atlantic Seaboard.2

I suspect that many, if not all, of these photos are the Spring Azure (C. ladon). However, there are other possibilities, depending on the season of the year, as follows:

  • The first up is Lucia’s Azure (C. lucia). Bugguide says in our area it emerges first, from late March to around the middle of April. The larvae like blueberries.
  • Next comes the Spring Azure (C. ladon), which begins flying in late April.  The larvae like a lot of things, including flowering dogwood and New Jersey Tea.
  • From April to May, the Dusky Azure (C. nigra) flies. The larvae like Goat’s Beard (that’s a flower, Aruncus dioicus). In Pennsylvania, it appears to be limited to the southwestern corner of the state.
  • Next come two species.
    • The Appalachian Azure (C. neglectamajor) which flies in “late spring.” It likes Black Cohosh (Bugbane), which is a woodland plant.
    • The second is the Cherry Gall Azure (C. serotina), which flies from early May in Virginia to early July in southern Canada. It flies for about a month; I don’t know exact dates, but I would assume it is probably mid-May to mid-June hereabouts. This is a butterfly of open spaces. As its name implies, the larvae eat Cherry Galls, at least in the southern portion of the range.
    • Last comes the Summer Azure (C. neglecta), the last to fly. Again quoting Bugguide for the mid-Atlantic region, “any azure flying after July 1 is very likely this species.” They like roses, meadowsweet, New Jersey Tea, and Gray Dogwood.

Here are photos, arranged by season from the last five years. You can see the change from a dark-bordered hindwing to a pretty-much unbordered hindwing. Outside of that, I can’t see anything. My best guesses are indicated between two question marks.3 On several photos, I have chosen not to even embarrass myself by trying.

 Azure Butterfly

14 April, 2011. Kansas Valley, Perry Co. ?C. lucia?

Azure Butterfly

20 April, 2010, Dix Hill, Perry Co. Note how worn ?C. lucia? On blueberry

Azure Butterfly

20 April, 2010. Same plant, same place as photo above (different individual).

Azure Butterfly

25 April, 2009. Bower Mtn Rd. Tuscarora State Forest, Perry Co. ?C. lucia/ladon?

Azure Butterfly

8 May, 2011, Pipeline right of way. Tuscarora State Forest, Perry Co. Worn specimen.

Azure Butterfly

29 May, 2011, Little Buffalo SP, Perry Co. On Dogwood. This was a large, floppy Azure.

Azure Butterfly

9 June, 2007. Near New Bloomfield, PA, on Dogwood (a nice picture, but useless for ID purposes).

Azure Butterfly

18 June, 2011, Little Buffalo SP. ?C. ladon/serotina?

 Azure Butterfly

30 June, 2011, Tuscarora Wild Area ?C. neglecta?

Azure Blue

22 August, 2011, Zooks Dam, Mifflin Co. ?C. neglecta?

I took these photos of Azures  in a desultory manner, when and as I found them on my journeys in the central mountains. I didn’t plan to do a series of photos, so I didn’t really take the time to capture the best shots. I just, kinda, grabbed ‘em.

That’s too bad. Had I captured a decent series over the last five years, this could actually have been a valuable Note. As it is, all I can tell you for sure is that they are Azures; beyond that, they are guesses.

I need to get better at this.

  1. Based on my memories of my Golden Guide to Butterflies and Moths. []
  2. How can “they” tell? []
  3. If you are asking yourself, why didn’t use brackets, instead of question marks–lesson learned, brackets cause html documents to throw fits. []

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One Response

  1. You have to read the follow up to this post–great input from a terrific lepidopterist (not me!).

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