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Juniper Hairstreak

About 15 keen natural history enthusiasts gathered yesterday in Adams County, and off we went seeking whatever it was that we could find. Plants, and rare ones especially, were supposedly our primary quarry but we were side-tracked on numerous occasions.

In the above photo, John Howard clambers about the rutted mire of the parking area from which we began our journey into the famous Lynx Prairie. Part of the rest of the crowd seemingly watches with bemusement, but actually they all are awaiting their turn to do the same - kneel in the dirt to ooh and ahh over one of our most sensational butterflies.

A juniper hairstreak, Callophrys gryneus! These tiny butterflies are rather uncommon and local in Ohio, and the cedar-dominated prairies of Adams County are the best places to find them. I think it was Cheryl Harner who first spotted the tiny insect greedily lapping minerals from the wet clay. Soon, a mob had surrounded the hairstreak, which cared not a whit about its legion of admirers.

Juniper hairstreaks - sometimes called olive hairstreak - are strictly beholden to the Eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana. Their caterpillars, which must possess tough mandibles, feed on the stiff foliage of these conifers. For much of the day, juniper hairstreaks seem to loaf high in the cedars and they can be devilishly hard to spot. You need to catch them when they drop down to nectar at plants, or uptake minerals from the soil, as our butterfly is doing.

Having had some experience with juniper hairstreaks, and for the most part finding them to be quite confiding, I coaxed the animal onto my finger. By rubbing your fingertip with a bit of soil, and gently pushing it into the butterfly's path, they'll sometimes climb right on. I was then able to transfer the hairstreak to Cindy, and make this photo. You don't want to flub and spook the butterfly - it'll often rocket skyward and out of sight within seconds, never to be seen again.

All of the hairstreaks are cool as can be: impossibly tiny and incredibly ornate flecks of scaled art. Note its zebra-striped antennae, and white-rimmed eyes. The "tails" that protrude from the rear of the hindwings play an important role in a constant ruse that the hairstreak plays. When at rest or feeding, the hairstreak continually rubs its hindwings slowly together, creating the illusion of moving antennae. Predators - birds for the most part - that notice the tiny butterfly will be drawn to the moving parts. Thinking the fake antennae to be the head of the butterfly, the bird lunges for that end. Chances are it'll end up with a piece of wing, but the important parts are at the other end and the butterfly will tear off, mostly unharmed.

This juniper hairstreak was a life butterfly for many in our party, and Heather of the Hills has already written about her experience HERE.


Kathy McDonald said…
It was a great time. Thanks for leading us again on this annual expedition. Never a dull moment!

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