- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Seen any gray hairstreaks, lately?
No, not on someone's head.
This is the butterfly, Strymon melinus, from the Lycaenidae family, known as the gossamer-winged butterflies.
It's an ashy gray butterfly with a white border. You'll also see orange spots on the ends of its hindwings and one on its head, in between the eyes.
One's been hanging around our fava beans, and what a welcome sight.
UC Davis distinguished professor Art Shapiro of the Department of Evolution and Ecology says on his website:
"This is one of the most polyphagous butterflies known, recorded on host plants in many families. Its most frequent hosts in our area are mallows, including the weedy species of Malva; legumes, including Spanish Lotus (Lotus purshianus), Bird's-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), White Clover (Trifolium repens) in lawns, Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and many others;and Turkey Mullein (Eremocarpus or Croton setigerus, Euphorbiaceae)."
"Early spring specimens," he says, "are small and very dark with reduced red markings; 'albinos,' with the red replaced by pale yellow, occur mostly in the spring brood. There is much minor variation. Adults visit an immense variety of flowers, both wild and cultivated. They are particularly addicted to Heliotrope and white-flowered Apiaceae."
Sadly, Shapiro, who has been monitoring the butterfly populations of central California since 1972, has been seeing very few butterflies this spring in his transects. Let's hope the butterflies get back on track and give us a winning streak.
Meanwhile, check out his newly renovated website, Art Shapiro's Butterfly Site.