Sunday, May 2, 2010

White M Hairstreak

Our last foray as part of the New River Birding & Nature Festival was to the high mountains of the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area. This is a magical bowl nestled within towering misty mountains that push to nearly 4,000 feet above sea level. The aptly named bog is full of cranberry and other floral goodies, and many species of birds that are rare breeders this far south nest here.

We were there, ostensibly, for the birds, and our group found many goodies. I'll share more about the feathered set later, but a magical little butterfly nearly trumped all.

Early spring at Cranberry Glades means golden carpets of Marsh-marigold, Caltha palustris. I suspect many a local nature buff makes the trip up here just to admire this spectacle. But, on this day, it wasn't only the people who found the "marigolds" alluring.

After catching up with the bulk of our group after a photographic diversion, someone showed me an image of a little butterfly on their camera. It's hard to make out details on digital camera view screens in bright sunlight, but I knew it was a hairstreak that I hadn't seen before. We headed back down the boardwalk to the area of discovery, and lo and behold, there was a gorgeous White M Hairstreak nectaring just where the group had left it.
White M Hairstreak, Parrhasius m-album. That's an odd, cool scientific name. The source of both the common name and scientific epithet are obvious: the white line forms a near perfect M just above that red dot on the hindwing. To me, the reddish mark looks like a little apple.

This hairstreak has a broad distribution, but seems to be rare and local for the most part. Butterfliers get quite excited whenever they encounter one of the tiny beasts. Oaks are the host plant, so there is no shortage of appropriate plant material to support the butterfly. I suspect White M's are considerably more common than suspected, but perhaps only rarely venture from the tree canopy down to our level.

I shudder to think how many photos were snapped of this butterfly. Here, Julie Zickefoose braves the quaking springy soil to procure some images.

Quite a throng eventually crowded around the butterfly, everyone anxious to admire the little insect. For its part, the White M completely ignored us. Major props to Donna Hershberger, far left, for initially spotting it and alerting the rest of us.

While the undersides of this species are rather dashing and sport the namesake white M, the upper wings are much showier. Unfortunately, hairstreaks rest with their wings tightly closed, so that we couldn't see the glorious azure blue upperwings. As someone pointed out, White M's suggest small Blue Morphos when they fly, and it was the flash of brilliant blue as the butterfly flitted by that drew Donna's attention.

So, after everyone had sated themselves with photographs, Julie grabbed an old Cinnamon Fern rachis and attempted to prod the butterfly into flight. So smitten was it with the nectar of the buttercups that a good push was required, as seen in the above video. Watch it closely, and you'll see the stunning explosion of blue when it finally takes wing.


Erik said...

m looking at my Kaufman guide and the photo in there doesn't do justice to that blue. That color in the sun was spectacular.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Lest I be labeled a butterfly abuser, I want to add that the obliging little creature merely circled and came back to the same marigold patch after his rude ouster. Thanks for these WV posts, Jim--they're delightful! As was taking in the splendors of the bog with you!

Jim McCormac said...

Ha! If anyone would be the tormentor of butterflies, it would be me. Remember, I'm the one that suggested giving it a prod. But, goading a butterfly into a short flight in order to admire its full majesty is better than netting it and impaling it in a pin.

And I agree, Erik, I don't think it possible for a photo or illustration to bring true life to that brilliant flashing blue.


Vickie said...

Delighted to see this butterfly through the experience of others. That splash of blue in flight is spectacular!

Pat Momich said...

Hi Jim, My friend, Connie Toops, referred me to your blog. Good stuff! She also showed me the GREAT Ohio spider guide. What a delight to be able to read pearls of information about those fascinating creatues! Where might I be able to get a copy of the spider guide? -Pat

Jim McCormac said...

Hi Pat,

I'm glad that you like my blog, and thanks for letting me know!

Just send your mailing address to me at:

And I'll ship you the spider booklet.