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.
It's delightful to see the gray hairstreak.
We're not talking about the gray streaks in our hair as we age (to perfection, of course!).
We're talking about the gray hairstreak, a common gray butterfly found throughout the United States, coast to coast, as well as parts of Canada and Mexico. Entomologists describe Strymon melinus as a small gray butterfly with a wingspan of from 2.6 to 3.65 centimeters. It is distinguished by its black-eyed orange spot at the base of its hindwing tails. It also has a small patch of blue before the tail, and two broken crossbands of black and white spots.
You may have seen it nectaring on a variety of plants. Indeed, it's considered one of the most polyphagous of butterflies. It works such flowers as sunflowers, lantana, clover, cosmos, mallows, and the like. In abundance, the larvae can become pests of cotton, peas, corn, corn, hops and other commercial agricultural crops. Cotton farmers call the larvae the "cotton square borer." The insect, however, is a pollinator more than it is a pest.
Perched on a flower with its wings up, the gray hairstreak resembles a sailboat.
It's on a winning steak. It flies fast, skillfully avoiding birds bent on a quick meal. It's a winner in other ways, too:
- it's abundant; not endangered.
- It's gray, but colorful.
- It's a flexible eater, not picky.
Read what Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, says about the butterfly on his website.
If you've ever watched a Gray Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus) nectaring a sedum, and then watched a honey bee (Apis mellifera) land on the same flower, it's a study in sharing.
"I was here first," says the Gray Hairstreak, sipping nectar.
"I was here second," says the honey bee.
So they wind up sharing, the butterfly and the honey bee. It's autumn and there's not much nectar anywhere.
"Stay back," says the butterfly.
"No," says the honey bee. "My colony needs the nectar."
So they crawl slowly on the blossom, meeting head to head, as if to prove that yes, "We can all get along."
The Gray Hairstreak is not so sure. The honey bee abruptly moves closer, and the startled butterfly lifts off to find another blossom.
The butterfly will be first again on a nearby sedum.
Are you on a winning streak? Or a losing streak? Or somewhere in between?
The Gray Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus) is always on a streak--a gray streak.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, writes about the Gray Hairstreak on his website, Art's Butterfly World. It's one of the many butterflies in the Central Valley that he's monitored over the past four decades.
It's most common in weedy and disturbed habitats at low elevation, Shapiro says, adding that it's "territorial and a hilltopper in suitable terrain, but does very well in towns and cities in the Central Valley. It is multiple-brooded and has a very long flight season, at sea level from February to November, but rarely seen before June in the mountains where it does not appear able to overwinter."
"Its most frequent hosts in our area are mallows, including the weedy species of Malva; legumes, including Spanish Lotus (Lotus purshianus), bird's-boot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), white clover (Trifolium repens) in lawns, alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and many others;and turkey mullein (Eremocarpus or Croton setigerus, Euphorbiaceae)."
We recently spotted the Gray Hairstreak grabbing some nectar on our guara (Guara lindheimer). Its distinctive orange spot matched perfectly the color of the nearby Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
Those of us joining naturalist Steve Daubert's butterfly talk and tour at the UC Davis Arboretum last September also spotted a Gray Hairstreak. The good news is that he's giving another "Butterfly Ecology Talk and Walk," sponsored by the UC Davis Arboretum, on Sunday, Sept. 14. It's free and open to the public. Participants will gather at 11 a.m. by the trellis at the California Native Plant GATEway Garden (newly-constructed garden at the Arboretum's east end, just behind the Davis Commons Shopping Center). (See the Arboretum calendar for more information and a map.)
"Last year at the Arboretum Butterfly Walk and Talk we talked about the co-evolution of the butterflies with the flowering plants, starting in the Middle Cretaceous," Daubert told us in an email. "This year we will set the scene farther back into the Mesozoic Era and talk about the origin of the advanced insect orders, including the Lepidoptera (the holometabolous insects). We will also talk about blue colors in the animals. And we will talk about butterfly gardening for folks here in the valley. We will be looking to see members of the five butterfly families commonly found in Davis."
Daubert is a molecular scientist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology. In addition to writing scientific technical text, he writes short stories, illustrated with his own photographs. He blogs at threadsintheweb.com.
if it's a streak of gray, you don't wash it away.
You welcome it.
The gray hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus) is common on our sedum, a good fall plant for pollinators, including butterflies, honey bees, sweat bees and syrphid flies, aka hover flies or flower flies.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says on his website that the gray hairstreak visits "an immense variety of flowers, both wild and cultivated. They are particularly addicted to Heliotrope and white-flowered Apiaceae."
Apiaceae? That's the carrot family, which includes not only carrots but parsley, celery, Queen Ann'es lace, parsnip, cilantro, hemlock, fennel and anise. Heliotropes, which commonly yield pink-purple flowers, are good for graystreaks, but not good for horses. It's toxic and can induce liver failure, according to the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center.
You can't be too careful out there.