Leps on Viburnum

April 24, 2014 | Greg Dodge

A Juniper Hairstreak sip nectar from the tiny white blossoms of Leatherleaf Viburnum.

A Juniper Hairstreak sips nectar from the tiny white blossoms of Leatherleaf Viburnum.

The viburnum here at the Museum is in bloom and when it is I scan the blossoms for early season leps (butterflies). Looking back on my records I’ve photo’d Juniper Hairstreaks on the viburnum in Catch the Wind on April 10, 2010, April 7, 2011, April 3, 2012, and the 22nd of April this year. They were a bit late this year. I think we all know the reason for that, persistent cool weather.

These small butterflies with green scales on their wings get their name from their host plant, the plant that the adults lay their eggs on and larvae feed on, junipers. Here at the Museum that’s Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). There’s no shortage of cedars here. The hairstreak part of their name comes from the elongated, hair-like scales on the outer margins of their hindwings.

These modified scales are suppose to mimic antennae, and along with the eyespots on those wings, which most hairstreaks posses, are intended to fool predators into grabbing, snatching, or biting the wings instead of the “real” head of the insect. It apparently works. If you spend enough time looking at butterflies, you’ll run into more than just a few with pieces of their hindwings missing.

The viburnum and cedars stand close to each other at the Sail Boat Pond in Catch the Wind. If you’re out sailing around the pond one sunny day this week, or next, give a look at the viburnum blossoms and see if you can spot one of these attractive butterflies.

While looking for these butterflies I also caught a glimpse of a black and white lep frenetically buzzing about the viburnum. It appeared to be a butterfly. After the lep landed on a leaf I realized it was a day flying moth, an Eight-spotted Forester (Alypia octomaculata).

Eight white spots on black wings give this moth its name.

Eight white spots on black wings give this moth its name. Note the tufts of orange scales on the legs.

Both the common and Latin names for this moth refer to the spots on its wings (two on each of the four wings), octomaculata means 8-spotted.

They lay their eggs on peppervine, grape, and Virginia creeper. I’m not familiar with peppervine on the campus, but there’s plenty of Va. creeper and grapes about the landscape.

As mentioned, these moths fly during the daylight hours, and their flight is very rapid. They don’t seem to sit still for long so if you want to get a good look at one, be patient. If you want a photo, be at the ready the moment you see one, they can disappear in a flash.

Viburnum grows throughout the campus, it was planted here along the trails. It’s a shrub with clusters of small white flowers. The plants referred to above are located in Catch the Wind, notably behind the Sail Boat Pond.

Viburnum behind the bench at left.

Viburnum behind the bench at left.

Good luck!

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