- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
"Omigosh, what's that? A gray hairstreak?"
If it's in your hair, you consult a mirror, your favorite salon, or just ignore it.
If you're an entomologist or a lepidopterist, a gray hairstreak is delightful. "Omigosh, check that out! A gray hairstreak!"
A gray hairsteak is a butterfly (Strymon melinus). It’s basically gray with a large orange spot near its tail. It probably derives its name from the fine gray hairlike markings that cross the undersurface of the hind wings. If you look closely, you’ll see threadlike tail projections, resembling antennae.
It’s not a beautiful butterfly, as butterflies go, and oh, do they go! Fast and low-flying, it is difficult to photograph. If you catch it nectaring, that’s your best shot.
In its caterpillar stage, it damages bean, corn and cotton crops.
Renowned butterfly expert Art Shapiro of UC Davis, who maintains an excellent butterfly Web site, says hairstreaks belong to the subfamily (Theclinae) and the gossamer-wing butterfly family (Lycaenidae).
"The gossamer-wings are a very diverse and complex family with at least 4750 species worldwide," he says. "In California, they can be grouped into the coppers (subfamily Lycaeninae), the blues (subfamily Polyommatinae), and the hairstreaks (subfamily Theclinae)."
The gray hairstreak is considered a weedy butterfly. "Weedy," as Shapiro explains on his Web site, "is a general term for organisms that are typically associated with habitats that are disturbed by human activities or are dominated by non-native, invasive plants."
Adults visit an immense variety of flowers, both wild and cultivated, says Shapiro. Indeed, the gray hairstreak is one of the most polyphagous butterflies known; it feeds on scores of different flowering plants.
In our bee friendly garden, a male gray hairstreak nectared last weekend on sage, sharing it with assorted honey bees.
Then like a streak, he was gone.