I had been thrilled to see butterflies on our walk, but I was ecstatic to see this tiny hairstreak. It has been a bad year for photographing hairstreaks. They’re not terribly common in some of the places I photograph regularly. The frequent grass trimming and lack of appropriate food keeps the numbers low. But there are usually at least a few flitting about, and this year I’ve seen a grand total of two. So when I saw the brilliant flash of blue and red, I squealed.
“What?!?!” my friend asked, no doubt thinking I’d seen a doubloon or at least something poisonous.
“It’s a hairstreak!!” I bubbled, while slithering through the middle of a flower garden on knees and elbows to get closer.
“Um, ok!” my friend responded, having picked up that a “hairstreak” was some type of butterfly. Pal and fellow photographer that she is, she gamely turned to keep an eye out for incoming wedding guests and anyone official who might not appreciate having a small woman with a large camera become embedded in the zinnias.
Hairstreaks got their name from the thin tails on their back wings. These hairlike extensions resemble antenna to predators (see the white tips), and help trick anything wanting tiny butterfly for its meal into going for the wrong end.
The most impressive and colorful part of this disguise is, to me, the eye spots and brilliant patch of iridescent blue scales on the hairstreak’s wings. When feeding or resting, the hairstreak rubs its back wings together, making the highly visible blue dots appear and keeping the antenna in motion. A little pearlescent showy display never hurt a butterfly trying to separate himself from the crowd and attract a mate either, and neither does the pheromones released by males from rubbing their wings together.
It was a great photo shoot. Well worth a few stares from passing bridesmaids. 🙂