The Mysterious Hairstreak Butterfly and Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

After lunch when the house is a bit quiet and the kids are either playing or away at one of their day camps, I pop out into the garden to do a little investigating and tending, and always find something surprising to share with the littles.

Today it was the hairstreak (I’m pretty sure the common gray – Strymon melinus) on my mint flowers. I was contemplating trimming several of these blooms back earlier on to encourage more growth, but my gut said no and I’m grateful. We’ve had more types of bees to visit (still working on a decent photo of those guys),

and then a variety of little butterflies including this guy. I’ve seen them several times before, and they’ve always fascinated me with their wing rubbing movement, as if there were two extra antennae at the base of the tail and false eyes.

“They like to bask in the sun with wings spread wide, unlike most hairstreaks, but they also rub their hindwings together in the typical fashion of most hairstreaks. This back-and-forth movement makes the wings look like antennae, apparently to fool predators into attacking a less vital part of their body. They are best seen when at rest and their wings are folded together over the back, one hind wing sometimes raised while the other is lowered. (Drees and Jackman, 1998Milne and Milne, 1980Tveten and Tveten, 1996)”

-Animal Diversity Web (ADW), University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

But today I looked into it a bit more and found this Ohio photographer’s blog article written on the subject, but from a completely different viewpoint. If you can capture a glimpse of the wings from behind and below, the image is certainly mind blowing and definitely worth more research! Such a beautiful creature about the size of one’s thumbnail. Thank you, Jim McCormac, for the fascinating insight!

And then yesterday I noticed our parsley has hatched a new brood of black swallowtail caterpillars, with this survivor braving the near 100 degree temps.

Eastern Black Swallowtail
Papilio polyxenes asterius

It appears to be napping and was unperturbed by my movements or any Texas ‘breezes’ swaying it’s tiny branch. This is the first time I’ve witnessed one of these caterpillars maintaining this position. I assume it has to do with the heat. My oldest daughter insisted I bring this one in too and it’s now feeding happily in the cooler temps. Our other chrysalis from late May is still “wintering” probably due to the AC. We hope at least! I’ll place it back out in the yard at the end of the month if doesn’t hatch by then.

We may need to turn up the temps for this one so as to not confuse the heck out of it!


    1. Sarah

      It’s nice to know our experience can bring a little joy to others. Thank you for sharing your family’s encounters with the natural world. Keep exploring and asking questions!

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