Happy Friday, Insect Lovers!!! We hope you’re having a great Friday. Well, we’re back into the super-cold weather again, and warm thoughts are hard to come by. But we’ll give it a try. Picture yourself walking down a jungle trail, butterfly net in hand. The temperature is in the mid 80’s and the humidity is high. You’re scanning the trail for something interesting to swing at, when suddenly out of the corner of your eye you see it. A tiny speck of iridescence just floated across the path about 20 feet ahead of you. You replay the image in your mind. It takes you a couple of seconds to convince yourself that you actually saw something. It is so small! The severely dappled sunlight glinting off its wings at irregular intervals makes it look like it is tumbling sideways!!! You cautiously approach the branch where it stopped twinkling. There’s something on the leaf, but it doesn’t look too exciting. Then it opens its wings. In the sunlight, it looks like a tiny colorful laser beam! You’ve just seen one of the jewels of the jungle---a Lycaenid butterfly!!!
Lycaenids are the second largest family of butterflies with over 5,000 species distributed around the world, with species on the six habitable continents and on most of the world’s islands. They are commonly called the “Blues”, “Harvesters”, “Coppers”, and “Hairstreaks”. The smallest of the Lycaenids are the world’s smallest butterflies, with wingspans of less than ½-inch!!! The largest Lycaenids have wingspans around 2-inches. But don’t let their small size turn you off. Some of them are the among the world’s most beautiful and delicate butterflies. Most butterfly collectors usually don’t collect Lycaenids unless they swing their own nets. That’s because their small size makes “wow factor” collectors prefer the more spectacular larger butterflies. Also, and possibly more importantly, Lycaenids are so small that they are almost impossible to work with. Oh, you can buy them in the insect market easily enough, but try handling a dried specimen and you’ll likely get discouraged. Even an experienced processor can ruin dozens of specimens without finishing one that ends up being perfect!!! There ARE a few collectors who have immaculate collections of Lycaenids. Most of their specimens were processed “fresh”, sometimes on location in the jungle. It’s still a very challenging task, but at least a fresh specimen gives you a reasonable prospect for success.
The “Blues” are usually blue, but sometimes the females are white or brown. They may or may not have short tails that are much thinner than a human hair. The “Coppers” and “Harvesters” are mostly patterned in shades of orange and brown, and have no tails. The “Hairstreaks” are the most spectacular, and usually have tails that are longer than the “Blues”, and sometimes they’ll have multiple tails. Hairstreak tails tend to curl up in a spiral in some species. Many Hairstreaks have a unique “anti-predator” behavior. When they land on a leaf, they rest with their wings vertical over their backs. With their forewings rigid, they move their hind wings forward and back alternating left to right. They usually have tiny eyespots at the base of their wing tails, and this movement makes small predators believe that the eyespot and tails are actually a head and antenna. The predator attacks this “false head” and gets a mouthful of dry wings for its effort, allowing the Hairstreak to escape. We have seen many Hairstreaks with “bite marks” in their wings.
Some Lycaenids like to bask in the sunlight, but most prefer areas with some shade available to help them “disappear” when frightened. Lycaenid caterpillars eat a variety of leaves, but some of them are carnivorous, living on aphids. There are also Lycaenid caterpillars that secrete a sweet juice that attracts ants. The ants protect the caterpillars and are fed in return!!! And a few species of Lycaenids are actually carried inside ant nests to form their chrysalids. These species actually emerge inside the ant nest, and have to crawl out in order to expand their wings!!! It’s truly amazing.
Along with today’s edition of Friday Flyers, we’ve included some photos of various Lycaenid species that we have personally encountered in our travels. Take a good look at the delicacy of the tails, and you’ll see why perfect specimens are truly a treasure. Lycaenids are generally too small to frame, but you will see some of the larger species in some of the collage frames in our Wonders Of Nature department.
One last note; we’re in the process of archiving all of our previous Friday Flyers editions on our website. You’ll be able to refer to all of the past editions complete with all the photos in a convenient and less confusing format. We should have our archive up and running in a week or two. We hope you’ll visit our website and check it out.
We hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Friday Flyers. We love sharing our interest in butterflies and insects with you. Please enjoy the photos we have posted with this week’s edition, and be sure to see all the previous pictures in our Friday Flyers album. Remember to “like” our Wonders Of Nature page, and be sure to pass it along to all your Facebook Friends. We hope you’ll visit our Wonders Of Nature department soon, and we look forward to seeing you.