Quest Bugs

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

April 17, 2012

I don’t exactly keep a list, but there are several species that I know can be found in the local area, but which, due to rarity, difficulty in access, or pure bad luck, I have never seen. Many of these are insects: I call them quest bugs.

Henry’s Elfin (Callophrys henrici) is one. They should be flying in April, and I have checked several sites where they are supposed to be.

No joy.

I have defined the areas that should harbor them—Redbud (Cercis canadensis) stands, particularly those on limestone ridges, and I have identified a number or potential sites.1

Redbud blooming on a ridge

Redbud ridges are a highlight of spring in the mountains.

We have lots of Redbud along our ridges, and we have a narrow belt of limestone that wiggles its way through the county. The problem, of course is getting access to private ground.

Red Cedars and a Redbud

Red Cedars and a Redbud

The other problem this spring has been the wind, which blew pretty much constantly for the first half of April; it was like being back in Oklahoma. Small butterflies don’t much like the wind.

I have permission for one limestone ridge close by, and I had been checking it for several windy days—no joy. Luckily, on Friday the 13th of April, the wind died down for a couple of hours. I happily abandoned my yard work and a long list of chores to drive over to the ridge.

No joy.

I decided to practice my “craft” on some bumblebees that were busily exploring the Redbuds.2

Bumble bee at Redbud

Bumble bee, probably Bombus impatiens--our most common bumblebee.

About that time a small, Elfin-size butterfly flew in and landed on the Redbud.

Nope, not an Elfin, but a Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus).

Juniper Hairstreak on Redbud

Juniper Hairstreak on Redbud

The Juniper Hairstreak is another quest bug. It is found, as the name implies, in the vicinity of Junipers (Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana).

There are plenty of cedars on that ridge.

This is an unmistakable bug, even for me.3

It was in shadow, which was a shame, and it left just as suddenly as it came.

Juniper Hairstreak on Redbud

Juniper Hairstreak, colors are muted in shadows.

And just as suddenly, it came back, and it perched in full sunlight. It wouldn’t give me that quintessential, full underwing in focus, head in profile, hairstreak pose. it just kept spinning into the shadow, or turning his butt towards me. Still, look at those colors. How absolutely perfect for blending in with the cedar trees: the rust, the cedar-green—marvelous.

Juniper Hairstreak

Juniper Hairstreak

Once again, it disappeared.

For the next few days, I re-visited that ridge, but so did the wind.

No joy.

Finally, on 17 April, the wind calmed down, the sun came out, and I went back to the ridge.

Four of them, I saw four of them. They are fluttery little things, hard to see, harder to get close to, but I got one pretty good shot.

Juniper Hairstreak

Juniper Hairstreak

A quest has ended. Let another quest begin.

Still looking for those Henry’s Elfins.

  1. The Henry’s Elfin caterpillar feeds primarily on Redbud.  I am not so sure about the reason behind the limestone ridges. It may simply be because the thin soil kept them out of cultivation, but almost every site I’ve read about seems to be on limestone. []
  2. If you are wondering why craft is in quotes, I just have a hard time taking what I do that seriously—seriously, I do. That said, photographing nectaring bees is a great opportunity to practice focusing on insects in flight. []
  3. Closer to the Atlantic, there is a similar species, Hessel’s Hairstreak (Callophrys hesseli), which specializes in Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), but we don’t get them here. []

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