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Butterflies - The Tribe Of The Blues

( Originally Published 1917 )

These beautiful little butterflies are well named, for the majority of them are colored in exquisite tints of blue. They are distinguished from the Coppers by this blue coloring, as well as by the fact that the spines on the under side of the tarsi are arranged in rows rather than in clusters and are comparatively few in number. The body is rather slender and the under surfaces of the wings are generally dotted in a characteristic fashion. Most of the two score or more species found in North America occur on the Pacific Coast or in the Southwest, less than half a dozen being common in the eastern region.

The Spring Azure

Cyaniris ladlon

For a wee bit of a gossamer-winged creature that expands scarcely an inch across its outstretched wings, the Spring Azure has caused American scientists an immense amount of patient labor. Over the vast territory from -Labrador across to Alaska and south to the Gulf of Mexico, this little blue butterfly exists in so many different forms that it requires special analytical keys to separate them. Not only does it vary geographically so that in one locality we find one form and in another a different form, but it also varies seasonally to a marked degree. As one would expect there is a striking difference in its annual cycle between Labrador and the Gulf Coast. In the far northern region there is but one brood a year, while in the southern region there are at least two and perhaps more.

The variations in this butterfly are shown by the differences in the marking of both surfaces of the wings. These markings may run from a faint blackish border along the extreme margin and a few faint dots upon the under surface, to a wide black margin around the wings and a deep abundant spotting of the under surface. The markings of the various forms are so uniform that the varieties are easily distinguished. It is beyond the scope of this book to attempt to differentiate all these varieties but any reader interested will find an admirable summary of the conditions illustrated by an excellent plate in Comstock's "How to Know the Butterflies." The species as a whole may be known from thefact that the upper surface is blue, the lower surface ash-gray, more or less spotted with dark brown, and the wings are without tails.

The Strange Structures of the Larvae

A remarkable variation of the adults is sufficient to give this species a special interest, but the larvae also have a unique attraction for the naturalist. The mother butterflies lay their eggs upon the flower buds of various plants, especially those which have clustered racemes of blossoms. These eggs hatch into minute slug-like Iarvae which feed upon the buds, commonly burrowing through the calyx lobes and devouring the undeveloped stamens and pistils inside. They finally change to chrysalids, which are more or less securely attached to a central flower stalk, from which in due time the butterflies emerge. So far there is nothing remarkable about this story of the life of the Spring Azure, but that is yet to come.

These little caterpillars are subject to attack by tiny parasitic flies which lay eggs in their bodies. Each egg hatches into a still more tiny maggot that lives at the expense of the tissues of the caterpillar and finally kills it.

When one of these little caterpillars has its head buried in the round ball of a flower bud, about half of its body is exposed defenseless, so that the little fly that lights upon it to lay her egg cannot even be dislodged by the head of the caterpillar, as is often the case with other species. There is a very curious provision for defense, however. If you look carefully through a lens at the hind part of the body you will find a little opening on the back of the seventh abdomial ring. This opening leads to a sort of tiny pocket, a pocket which the caterpillar can turn inside out when it so desires. Now the curious thing about it is that the caterpillar, while this pocket is concealed in its body, is able to secrete in it a drop of liquid which we presume to be sweet to the taste. When the little pocket is partly filled with this drop of liquid the caterpillar turns it inside out in such a way that the liquid drop remains in position on top of the protruded pocket.

Perhaps you ask what is the good of all this complicated arrangement? If you could see what happens when the little drop of what or lack of a better nameŚwe shall call honey-dew is exposed, you would begin to guess the reason. Wherever these larvae' are found you will also find many ants wandering round among them, and the moment the honey-dew appears these ants begin to sip it up. When it is all gone the little caterpillar draws in its pocket again and presumably begins to store up another bit of liquid. It is certainly a curious example of what the naturalists call symbiosis, which simply means a living together of two animals, each helping the other in some way. In this case it is easy enough to see how the caterpillar helps the ant, but perhaps you are wondering in what possible way the ant may help the caterpillar. I hardly dare give the most plausible explanation for fear some one will cry out, "Nature-faker!" But fortunately the explanation is based upon at least one precise observation by W. H. Edwards, one of the most careful and reliable naturalists America has produced, who lived before the recent era of Nature-fakers and was never accused of sensationalism. Mr. Edwards saw an ant drive away from one of these caterpillars a little parasitic fly which apparently was . searching for a victim. Consequently, it would appear that the ants helped the caterpillars by protecting them from these arch enemies.

This is by no means an isolated example of the relations between ants and other insects. It has been known for hundreds of years that the ants use the aphids as a sort of domestic milk-producer, attending the aphids at all times end even caring for their eggs throughout the winter season. As the plant-lice live in colonies, sucking the sap of their host plant, they are attended by great numbers of ants that feed, upon the honey-dew which passes through their bodies. In many cases the ants have been observed to stroke the aphids with their antennae in a way which seems to induce the aphid to give out a drop of the sweet liquid for the ant to lap up. In a similar way these ants seem sometimes to stroke these little caterpillars with their antennae and thus to induce them to turn their little pockets inside out with the drop of liquid at the tip. This is certainly an unusual and most interesting relation between two insects far separated by their structural characters.

The little pocket that I have thus described is situated upon the seventh segment of the abdomen. Just back of it there are two other openings which are even more curious in their structure. These are provided with some slender tentacles on which there are circles of hairy spurs. These structures are a great puzzle to naturalists. It is difficult to explain what they are for unless we assume that they relate in some way to the honey-dew pocket on the seventh ring. The only plausible explanation is that these serve to advertise to the ants, by giving off a distinctive odor, that there is nectar near at hand to be had for the asking. They would thus be analagous in a way to the fragrant scent of flowers which is for the purpose of advertising to the bee the fact that nectar or pollen or both are near at hand and may be had for the asking. In the case of these caterpillars, however, if this is the true ex-planation it is a most wonderful provision and one which would be likely to tax the ingenuity of man's mind for a long while before it was originated.

So this little butterfly. which greets us in every spring, like "a violet afloat," to quote Mr. Scudder's happy phrase, is full of interest at all stages of its existence. It should lead one to a new respect for the familiar things in the natural world when one learns how baffling to the wits of the wisest scientist is this little creature with its protean forms and the wonderful structure of its caterpillars.

Scudder's Blue

Rusticus scudderi

This beautiful little butterfly is perhaps the most richly colored of all our northern Blues. The upper surface of the wings in the male is a nearly uniform hue, except for a narrow dark border around the margin. In the female there is, in addition, a series of black-centred orange spots inside of the black border, the series being more prominent on the hind wings than on the front ones. The under surface is very pale with distinct marks in black scattered over the basal two thirds, with a row of orange spots outside of these and another row of small blackish spots just inside of the blackish border stripe.

This butterfly is a northern species. It occurs in New England, New York, and Michigan, and thence extends far north into Canada. The caterpillar feeds upon blue lupine and apparently the butterfly is likely to be found in most places where this plant grows. The eggs are laid upon the leaves or steins and the little caterpillars come out of the shells through small holes which they have gnawed.

"The caterpillar," wrote Mr. Scudder, "has a very extensible head and flexible neck, and its manner of feeding immediately after birth is rather remarkable; it pierces the lower cuticle of the leaf, making a hole just large enough to introduce its minute head, and then devours all the interior of the leaf as far as it can reach--many times the diameter of the hole-so that when the caterpillar goes elsewhere, the leaf looks as if marked with a circular blister, having a central nucleus; the nearly colorless membranes of the leaf being all that is left, and at the central entrance to the blister the upper membrane only." Later in its life it often modifies this feeding habit somewhat, and as it approaches full growth it is likely to devour the entire blade of the leaf.

These larvae have the curious nectar-secreting glands on the seventh abdominal segment which are discussed in connection with the preceding species. Many ants are attracted by this secretion so that it often happens that the easiest way to find the caterpillars is to look for these attendants. In New England there are two broods of the butterfly, one appearing early in June and the other late in July.

The Tailed Blue

Everes comyntas

The tiny, thread-like, white-tipped tail projecting from the hind angle of the hind wings distinguishes this species at sight from any other found in eastern North America. The species, however, occurs clear to the Pacific Coast and ranges north and south over most of the northern continent. The small slug-like caterpillar feeds upon the flowers of various clovers and other legumes.

The Silvery Blue

Nomiades lygdamus

It would be a distinct privilege to work out the life-history of this exquisite little butterfly. Although the adult was described as long ago as 184e, the early stages seem to be still unknown. The species, occurs in the South Atlantic states, extending west as far as Wisconsin.

Synopsis of the Blues

Tailed Blue (Everes comyntas or Lycaena comyntas). Wing expanse 1 inch or less. A slender tail projecting from each hind wing. Upper wing surface of varying tones of blue, the males lighter than the females. Lower wing surface grayish white with scattered spots.

Scudder's Blue (Rusticus scudderi or Lycaena scudderi Wing expanse 1 inch or less. No tails on hind wings. Eyes without hairs. Upper wing surface blue; female has dusky margins on front wings and an orange border with blackish spots near outer margin of the hind wings. Lower wing surface bluish gray with many small spots.

Silvery Blue (Nomiades lygdamus or Lycaena lygdamus). Wing expanse I inch. No tails on hind wings. Eyes hairy. Upper wing surface silvery blue with dusky mar-gins which are broader in the female. Lower wing surface ashy gray with many darker spots.

Spring Azure (Cyaniris ladon or Lycaena ladon). Wing expanse 1 inch. No tails on hind wings. Eyes hairy. Upper wing surface azure blue with black border markings varying greatly, more pronounced in the female. Lower wing surface slaty brown with many darker spots.

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