Redbud, Hollies, & Green Henry’s

Henry’s elfin at moth light, photographed by Brian Johnson in his backyard (in CMY) April 5, 2023

Brian Johnson’s recent night-time shot of a Henry’s elfin with green highlights inspired some reading into a spring-season butterfly mystery that has surfaced now and again on our Sightings Log for several years.  

The mystery revolves around two questions:

  1. What plants are the primary hosts for Henry’s elfin on NJ’s Coastal Plain?
  2. How frequent (and identifiable) are “greenish” Henry’s elfins here?

If either question interests you, the next few weeks are the ideal time to try to help find an answer.  Henry’s fly in South Jersey from mid/late March to early/mid-May. 

Harry Pavulaan first described a greenish form of Henry’s in The Maryland Entomologist in 1998 and named it as a new subspecies, Incisalia henrici viridissima. He credits Samuel Gifford for discovering the form while doing field work on North Carolina’s Outer Banks from 1974 to 1980. In a report of Gifford’s work on several hairstreaks, Gifford & Opler wrote, “Individuals of the Hatteras population [of Henry’s] had a greenish cast ventrally and might eventually be described as a separate subspecies.”  

Pavulaan took up the gauntlet.  He examined Gifford’s specimens and dozens of other museum specimens from the East Coast to study the differences.  He finally sorted them  into five phenotypes:  (1) all-brown “nominotypical” Henry’s; (2) viridissima greenish-types; (3) intermediates between all-brown and greenish-types; and (4, 5) two southern subspecies found only from southern South Carolina into Florida.  

Then he created a map of their distribution of the eastern range of Henry’s from Florida to Maine. Viridissima and intermediates appear from the Outer Banks northward to northern Virginia, the panhandle of West Virginia, southern Maryland, the Delmarva peninsula, and Cape May County, NJ.  

To see that map and to learn many other details, including Pavulaan’s meticulous description of the field marks of greenish Henry’s and his careful discussion of host plants, you can go to the full article linked at the end of this post.    

In the meantime, here’s a quick summary of the key points most relevant for South Jersey butterflyers:

– On Pavulaan’s 1998 map at least, Cape May County, seems to be the northern limit of the area he calls the “blend zone,” where three of his five types can be found:  all-brown individuals (the majority), intermediates, and viridissima individuals.  (From central New Jersey north to New England all the Henry’s specimens Pavulaan examined were the all-brown type.) 

– The frequency of viridissima and intermediates may be related to differences in soils and host plants.  Redbud, Cercis canadensis, is the primary host inland, where all-brown individuals dominate. Hollies, including yaupon, Ilex vomitoria, and American holly, Ilex opaca, seem the most likely hosts on the Outer Banks and probably elsewhere in the sandy soils where viridissima and intermediates may be found.  

Photo by Harvey Tomlinson, Jakes Landing (CMY), March 28, 2019. Where would this fit in Pavulaan’s categories?

– The greenish cast Pavulaan describes can be subtle, short-lived, and dependent on the lighting, even in “pure form” viridissima individuals.  It is best seen on fresh, living butterflies in full sunlight.  He writes, “Optimally, one should examine specimens under natural sunlight to view the full effect of the green characters in combination” and notes that some observers thought the butterflies they netted in the field looked greener than they appeared in the lab later after collection.

Photographed by Claire Campbell, New Farm (BUR), April 27, 2018. Where would this Henry’s fit in Pavulaan’s categories?

The original article is in black-and-white, but a photo of a plate of two viridissima collected on Bodie Island, NC, in 1991 was later added as a supplement. [4-12-23: The link below seems to hang up for some readers. If you’d like to see it and can’t, email me and I’ll send you the pdf directly.]

Color plate of 1991 specimens from Bodie Island, NC

Pavulaan speculated about a possible connection between host plant differences and color-form variations:    

“I believe the greenish characters found in I. h. viridissima are an early-stage evolutionary adaptation to the evergreen holly forest habitat in the mid-Atlantic coastal region…. lndividuals with strong greenish coloration might gain protective advantage by blending imperceptibly against a background of green holly leaves in early spring. Inland populations, which have a predominantly brown venter and feed primarily on redbud (Cercis canadensis), do not stand to gain from such coloration against the stark leafless dark brown branches of their early-spring forest habitat. Theoretically, the green characters in holly-feeding populations [of Henry’s] may have been selected over time, providing an effective measure of camouflage.”

Just last week, twenty-five years after his original work, Pavulaan restated and updated his sense of this subspecies in an interesting exchange with Rick Borchelt on the mdlepsodes google discussion group (a group well worth joining for many reasons). You can read that here:

mdlepsodes on greenish Henry’s elfins

One point that might tweak the interest of South Jersey readers is not discussed in the 1998 article (or in the mdlepsodes exchange).  This is the apparent frequency of viridissima and intermediates in Cape May County that is evident in Pavulaan’s data.  Go to page 13 of Pavulaan’s article and check out the percentages.  He examined 54 specimens of Henry’s from Cape May and found 9 (17%) were viridissima and 13 (24.5%) were intermediates.  Those are higher percentages for those two forms in Cape May County than any other county north of the Outer Banks except Anne Arundel County, MD.  

I scrolled backward for logged photos of greenish Henry’s to accompany this write-up and found myself often unsure.  Just as collectors were frustrated when the green they saw in the field did not match the netted specimen, photographers may find it difficult to capture the green with their cameras.  A few Aprils ago, my wife Jesse and I studied a Henry’s through our bins from a dozen feet away and simultaneously said something like, “Look at the green!”  I stepped forward and snapped the shutter moments later.  The photograph below might seem unconvincing, I know.  All I can say is “You had to be there!”

Photographed on Mannheim Ave, Galloway (ATL), April 22, 2018

That Mannheim Avenue Henry’s  and perhaps others in the photos above might qualify only as “intermediates” in the Pavulaan system, but if so, the blend zone extends northward beyond Cape May County. Could the entire Outer Coastal Plain of NJ be a blend zone of three types: all-brown, intermediates, and viridissima?   

Can we record pure viridissima here?  Have we already? The three photographed Henry’s below strike me as our best evidence (so far) that we have.  Note that the first two come from well north of the Cape May County line.  Jack Miller included in his report that McNamara WMA (just south of the CMY line) “produces the greenish [Henry’s] on the Cape.”    

Photographed by Jean Gutsmuth & Chris Herz,
Glassboro Woods, April 14, 2017
Photographed by Dave Amadio, Glassboro WMA (GLO), April 6, 2020
Photographed by Jack Miller, MacNamara WMA (CMY) April 5, 2020

Redbud seems an uncommon or rare plant throughout most of the NJ Coastal Plain (outside backyards and other cultivated situations).  We have at least four species of hollies here, however: American holly, inkberry, winterberry holly, and smooth winterberry holly.  The first two are especially widespread and numerous.  Do Henry’s use hollies as their host plants in our area?  Pavulaan’s article and his recent comments suggest yes.  But our log could use more proof.  The single photograph I could find of ovipositing Henry’s is one of our most recent reports, from Scott McConnell at Whitesboro just last week.

Photographed by Scott McConnell, Whitesboro (CMY), April 1, 2023

Scott wasn’t thinking about ovipositing when he took this shot because, like me, he finds it hard to believe elfin caterpillars can possibly chew on the tough, tough leaves of American holly.   But after studying his photo sequence, he reports that his Henry’s kept its abdomen pressed to the leaf for 20+ seconds.   

So, here’s the two-pronged challenge for any South Jersey butterflyers interested:

  1. Can we determine and document which plants are Henry’s primary hosts here? Photographs of any form of Henry’s – brown, greenish, or intermediate – ovipositing on any plant would be significant and exciting to have.
  2. How many greenish Henry’s – viridissima or intermediate – can we document this spring?  How common are they?

If you see ovipositing by Henry’s or any green Henry’s, please report them to our log.

My too-quick backtrack through the log probably missed photos or reports that would help answer one or the other of those questions.  If you remember such a report or submitted a relevant photo or report yourself, please send me an email. I could use them in an update of this post.

Other corrections and comments are also welcome, of course.  

Keep exploring, everyone, and posting your sightings when you can.

Jack Connor

April 10, 2023

Harry Pavulaan, “A New Subspecies of Incisalia henrici from The Outer Banks of North Carolina” (1998)

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A New Butterfly for South Jersey

A southern-broken dash, Wallengrenia otho, photographed by Kathy Horn in the Cape May Meadows, July 20, 2022.

Thanks to Kathy Horn’s sharp eyes and quick-thinking camera work, we have added a new species to our South Jersey Butterfly Project’s all-time list, the southern broken-dash, Wallengrenia otho.

Our log is in its 15th year, so new species — butterflies that no one has previously reported anywhere in New Jersey’s southern eight counties — do not come often. Until last year we had added no new species at all to our all-time list after June 2017, when Beth Polvino found and photographed a great purple hairstreak in her garden. Now, though, we’ve added two in the last nine months. Jack Miller won us our 108th species with his superb find of a eufala skipper at Rea Farm, Cape May Point, last November and Kathy has documented our 109th with her find this week.

Polvino’s great purple hairstreak and Miller’s eufala seemed to come out of nowhere. Both are species generally found only hundreds of miles south of NJ. The southern broken-dash, by contrast, breeds in Delaware and Maryland and has been teasing us for the last six years — since Harvey Tomlinson photographed the butterfly below:

A puzzling broken-dash photo’d by Harvey Tomlinson on July 16, 2016, at Forsythe NWR, ATL.

You can see several similarities in the two photographs aboved: both individuals show an reddish overall ground color (different than the darker brown of northern broken-dash), two-toned wing fringes (gray on FW, buff on HW) and another, more subtle field mark to be detailed below.

Two other possible southern broken-dashes were found in the summer of 2016. Will Kerling photographed this individual in Estell Manor, Atlantic County, just three days after Harvey photo’d his:

Possible (now probable) southern broken-dash photographed by Will Kerling July 19, 2016.

And a few days after that Dolores Amesbury found this individual in her garden in Cape May Court House:

Possible (now probable) southern broken-dash photographed by Dolores Amesbury in her garden in Cape May Court House, July 27, 2016.

Despite this flurry, we did not add the species to our log’s “official” all-time list. One problem was there were no previous records of southern broken-dash for the state of New Jersey; another was that both SBD and NBD are variable and the differences between them are subtle. We had some other reasons for caution also. If you are interested in those and the history of the taxonomic split between SBD and NBD, see this post from August 2016:

Southern Broken Dash: A Species To Look For?

In the years since 2016 we have had a few “might-have-been” SBDs, but none apparently as convincing as Kathy’s individual this week. Here’s her superb dorsal shot of her 7-20-22 butterfly:

This shot shows it’s a male, somewhat worn, but with two or three field marks of SBD visible. (Kathy Horn, Cape May Meadows 7-20-22.)

The South Jersey observers who have studied Kathy’s photographs so far agree that this is a southern broken-dash — and at least a couple of us are now re-studying those old photos from 2016. We also have support from three esteemed friends of the Project whose credibility adds much weight to the ID. David Wright replied to a request for his take with “I think [Horn’s] photos are Southern Broken-Dash,” and he added, “I think the 2016 photos are good too. They align with what Kathy has documented this week.” Jim Springer replied, “The evidence for calling [those butterflies] SBDs — especially Kathy’s individual — is pretty compelling to me.”

Wade Wander sent us the longest comment (shortened here), “I must admit to being somewhat skeptical when I saw the ventral view photo taken by Harvey a few years ago. Although it was obviously reddish and certainly resembled a SBD, I wanted to see more photos of different individuals including the upper surface…

“But having seen these additional photos I am convinced that SBDs are present in south Jersey. And this should not be surprising as many of us have witnessed the northward expansion of many species of birds, moths, odonates, and, most notably, Wawas. Take for example the Dot-lined White Moth (Artace cribrarius). This primarily southern species first appeared at my moth lights in Sussex County in 2017. I have seen it annually since and in increasing numbers. In fact, I have found cocoons, so it is now a resident species. The Carolina Mantis has also rapidly expanded south to north and is now found at least as far north as central Jersey….

“So, is SBD resident? If its host grass is present. then why not now, and if not now, then certainly soon.

“And surely Whirlabout is on-deck.”

How To Find Our Next Southern Broken-Dash In South Jersey:

If you are inspired to track down a SBD yourself, the first thing to recognize is that separating it from northern broken-dash is no easy task. Even in states to the south where both species can be found regularly observers differ on the best ways to distinguish them, and most seem to agree it is often a judgment call.

Second, you need to take sharp, well-lit, close-up photographs of any possible SBD that you encounter.

Third, know that most field guides and on-line sources illustrate “text-book” and fresh individuals that we are unlikely to see here until we have a breeding population. (All four of the individuals in the photos above are somewhat worn. If they or future SBDs are all strays from Maryland or Delaware, wing wear is to be expected.)

Fourth, recognize that no single field mark seems completely reliable. To document our next southern broken-dash you will need to find most of the field marks below.

  1. Overall reddish ground color (noted by all field guides).
  2. Two-toned wing fringes — one gray, one buff (noted by Cech & Tudor in their Butterflies Of The East Coast and by a couple of other sources). Tomlinson’s and Amesbury’s shots and Horn’s ventral shot all show this feature.
  3. A yellowish rectangular spot trailing the stigma on males (noted in Kaufman’s Butterflies of North America, by David Wright and James Monroe in their Butterflies of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.) Kerling’s photograph and Horn’s dorsal shot both show this.
  4. A leading edge of the forewing (the costal area) on males that is brighter and more orange than the same area on male NBDs (illustrated in Cech & Tudor and in Wright & Monroe). Kerling’s photograph shows this, and it also seems present in Horn’s shot. Neither is “text-book” bright, however.
  5. A pattern of dots in the hindwing underside that suggest a 3 because two of the dots project inward (as illustrated in Glassberg’s Swift Guide To Butterflies and in the Kaufman field guide). Amesbury’s photo and Tomlinson’s photo show this most clearly above. In Horn’s ventral shots this feature is suggested by only one dot, perhaps because wing wear has shortened the leading edge of the other dot.

When To Search For Our Log’s Next SBD?

Now! All four butterflies above were found in July.

Good luck to all explorers. Keep chasing, photographing, reporting, and enjoying the butterflies of South Jersey.

Jack Connor

July 26, 2022

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Are The Anglewings In Sync?

We all know anglewings look very much alike. Can you ID this one with the telltale “punctuation” hidden? Photograph by Jeanine Apgar at Palmyra Nature Cove on September 18, 2021.

Our two local anglewings, the eastern comma and the question mark, show many similarities besides their physical resemblance:

  • They share a mostly-overlapping range with each other, south from Maine to Florida and west to the Dakotas, and are the most widespread and southernmost members of the genus Polygonia in eastern North America.  (The four other Polygonia of the East – gray comma, hoary comma, satyr comma, and green comma – are generally limited to northern woodlands).    
  • Their caterpillars feed on a similar mix of host plants, including elms and nettles.
  • Both species occur here in two, clearly-distinct broods – one brood in early summer and, weeks later, a second in late summer/early fall.  
  • Many individuals of both species of that second brood over-winter as adults in South Jersey (unlike all but two or three others of our 90+ species), and both species regularly fly in late-winter and early-spring, usually weeks ahead of all but the mourning cloak, their fellow Nymphalid.
  • As adults, both species feed frequently on sap, dung, and rotten fruit, and neither one nectars regularly on flowers.
A question mark sipping from a fruit dish in Pat Sutton’s backyard garden in Goshen, June 15, 2021 — a behavior also regularly seen in eastern commas.
  • Both species also migrate southward in fall and some individuals, at least, seem to migrate north in spring.  The question mark has occasionally erupted northward from southern states in huge migratory flights, most recently in May 2012.
  • Both their populations also ebb and flow obviously from year to year – numerous and hard-to-miss some years, tougher-to-find in other years.

And that leads to our ecology puzzle:  Are their two populations also in sync with each other?  In other words, do their many similarities lead to similar records of ups and downs, so that they share the same good years and bad years?  Or, do  they differ in their ecologies so much that one can boom while the other busts, and vice-versa?   

I called upon my junior-high spreadsheet skills to see how our log’s numbers might answer those questions.

A Note About Numbers:

The Reeves’ system that powers our log enables us to measure and compare abundance and yearly fluctuations in two different ways – by total reports for a species in a given year or by total individuals counted in all reports of that species for the year.  Each method has its pluses and minuses, but in this case the question mark irruption of 2012 distorts our individuals’ totals significantly.  Observers estimated a total of 5000+ individuals on the peak day of the flight, May 4.  That was more question marks reported in one day than we have ever recorded for the species in any other full year.  To avoid that distortion problem and to keep things simple, I am using total records as the comparison measures for the three graphs below.  

The question mark has long been considered the more numerous of the two species in our area. Arthur Shapiro made this point in his Butterflies of the Delaware  Valley in 1966, and Gochfeld & Burger came to the same conclusion in their Butterflies Of New Jersey in 1997 (citing sources going back to the late 1800s).  Our log records confirm that the question mark continues to be more common.  Over our log’s first ten full years, 2009-2018, we compiled an average of about 220 reports/year and 845 individuals totaled/year for the question mark.  The comma’s numbers were lower on both counts: 124 reports/year and 295 individuals totaled/year.  

Two Trend Lines:

The trend lines in the first two graphs below of all reports suggest that the comma seems to be increasing in South Jersey while the question mark seems to be declining.  I am uncertain whether these trends are meaningful.  Both trends are modest, and they might be temporary – part of a longer cycle, where a species increases or decreases for five or ten years and then returns to its former numbers.     

Booms & Busts:

But what about those booms and busts? Are commas and question marks so similar that they share good years and bad years in parallel? 

To make comparisons easier, the bars in the next graph indicate each species’ numbers vs. its own 10-year average (calculated for 2009-2018) as the standard.  The 100 line = 100% of that 10-year average.

“Good” & “Bad” Years

Each species has had five “good” (= above average) years and eight “bad” (below average).  The question mark’s five have been 2010, 2011, 2012 (its best year by far), 2017, and 2019.  The comma’s above-average years have been 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, a string of five good years in six and followed by 2020 with a count right at 100% of the 10-year average.  

In Sync? 

One hint that their similar ecologies lead them to struggle at the same time are the three years when both had numbers well below their averages – 2009, 2015, and last year, 2021.   They also have shared two or three “good” years – 2017 and 2019, and 2011, when the comma reached its average while the question mark totaled 120% of its average.  

Or Not?

The story grows more complicated when we look at the five years of 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018, when one species boomed while the other busted.  The years 2012 and 2014 seem the clearest examples of mismatched booms and busts:  in the question mark’s best year of 2012 the comma had its second-worst (of our log’s thirteen); in the question mark’s second-worst year in 2014, the comma had numbers well above its average.  

One key to these mismatches might be differences in their host plants.  Most texts list elms, nettles, and hops for both anglewings, but their specific preferences seem to differ. Our log has many reports of question mark using hackberry as a host, for example, but I don’t see that as a listed host for eastern comma, and I can’t seem to remember log reports or photos of comma using hackberry.  If you have photos or remember them doing so, can you please send me a note?

Another possible difference involves stinging nettle (Urtica diocia). That plant is often listed as a host for eastern commas but not, it seems, for question marks. Anyone with a photo or a memory of a question mark ovipositing on stinging nettle or their caterpillars using it? 

Butterfly gardeners, please let us know which plants the anglewings have used in your yard. You may know more about the host plants for these two species in South Jersey than anyone!

Your Thoughts?

I will stop here and invite comments from anyone with other thoughts about these numbers.  I see several complications we could explore, along with questions about host plants: 

Is thirteen years of logging too short a period to draw lines of population trends?  Does that question mark boom year of 2012 distort its record for all our log’s thirteen years so far?  As many of us have become better butterflyers over the years, with more experience and better field guides, do we now separate more commas from question marks than we used to?  (If so, that could create an apparent rise of the first and decline of the second.)  Are the ecologies of the two species actually so different – despite their many apparent similarities – that comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges and so finding parallels or contrasts is self-delusion?  And so on.  

I am also reminded of a line I saw recently in Doug Tallamy’s The Nature Of Oaks: “Ecology is not rocket science,” a friend once observed, “It’s much more complicated than that!”

Our blog’s comments tool had to be disabled as it was plagued by spam.  Thoughts, questions, or complaints can be emailed to me nacotejackATgmailDOTcom and I will post below.  Thanks for reading!


Tom Bailey managed this amazing photo of both anglewings perched together on the trunk of a pine at Palmyra Nature Cove on July 28, 2018. They would be easier to ID if they posed like this more often!

[PS: The anglewing in Jeanine Apgar’s photo at the top of this post is an eastern comma.]

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Jack Miller: Some Thoughts On South Jersey’s Dion Skippers

Male Dion on Rt 610 power line, CMY, on July 13, 2017 photographed by Jack Miller

[Update (8-3-21): In response to Jack Miller’s post below, Dale Schweitzer has kindly provided his own thoughts about the host plant for Euphyes dion in our area. See the end of this post for his comments.

Any observer observing ovipositing by this species should attempt to photo it and also include full shots of the plant involved and post on our Sightings Log. We could help solve this mystery! jc]

Dion skipper has an interesting history in the SJBP log.  Since the log began in 2008, Dions have been found in six of our eight South Jersey counties: CMY, ATL, CUM, CAM, BUR, and OCN; only SAL and GLO have not reported the species.  CMY has had by far the most reports with 122;  ATL has had 9 with only 3 reports north of the Tuckahoe River area;  BUR has had 7; CUM has had 5 reports; and CAM has had 1 report (2013).

From 2008 to 2011 we collected 19 reports from three counties (CMY, BUR, and ATL) with a total number of individuals of approximately 30 to 40 (numbers do not exist for 2008).  By 2011, the vast majority of reports started coming from CMY with peak years of 20 reports in 2016 and the log’s record of 33 reports in 2017.  Reports of 20 to 40 individuals became common with peak number of individuals in reports as high as 144 (2012), 60 (2017), 131 (2019), and the log’s record of 350 in 2020.

Most likely, the low number of reports from the log’s early years can be attributed to a learning process.  As more locations were discovered, an understanding of what comprised suitable habitats increased.  “New” locations soon became “old” locations that were visited each year, thus increasing the number of reports and the number of individuals seen.  Also, particularly in CMY, log participants realized that there were dozens of locations that were suitable for Dions.

Dion numbers in Cape May County fluctuate and sometimes these fluctuations are dramatic.  Boggy areas in power line cuts offer prime habitat for Dions. However, when these lines are mowed and/or “shaved,” populations may crash.  An example of this is the power line that extends from Route 610 to Corson’s Tavern Road. On July 22 2017, 68 individuals were reported from this location.  In 2018, after being mowed and having significant work completed with heavy equipment, the site’s high single-day count was five on July 25.  Conversely, the Hand Avenue colony location has not been mowed in years, and the population there has been growing recently.  The colony peaked with a report of 350 individuals on July 25, 2020.

Male Dion skipper at Hand Avenue, CMY, on July 17, 2020, photographed by Jack Miller

It also appears that the species may experience cyclical variations.  CMY’s record number of 33 reports in 2017 was followed by 6 reports in each of 2018 and 2019 with four of the 12 reports in 2018 and 2019 being single individuals from yard gardens. Only the Hand Avenue site thrived during 2018 and 2019.

Dions do not mind straying far from their host plants. An observer may encounter a Dion almost anywhere in the Cape.  They have been reported at Cape May Point and single individuals have been found in dozens of locations.  One individual was found in the middle of Wharton St Forest far from where any colony has been discovered.  It is possible that degradation in host locations can be responsible for the species abandoning some sites and relocating to other sites where the host plants exist.  In 2021, two locations in the Rio Grande area apparently have been abandoned.  It is clear that the sedges in one of the locations spent a long period of time under water which resulted fewer and weaker plants.  However, there is a small area within two miles of the previously mentioned sites where the host plant is healthy, and for the first time in five years Dions have appeared there.

Cech and Tudor (in their Butterflies of the East Coast) list “various sedges” as host plants including Carex lacustris and Scirpus cyperinus. Glassberg (in his Butterflies Through Binoculars) simply lists “Carexs.”  It is likely that the most common host plant in southern New Jersey for Dions is Carex lacustris.  This sedge is widely distributed and can be found in bogs, vernal wetlands and along brackish marshlands.  However, large patches of sedges does not guarantee the presence of Dions.  I know of a number of locations where C. lacustris thrives that I have searched for years, but have not seen Dions. It is interesting to note that most of these locations are near brackish tidal areas that can be flooded by storm-produced tidal flooding.  On the other hand, it may only take a few hundred square feet of C. lacustris in order for a colony to exist for years.  The Davies Sports Complex in CMY provides an example of one of these small colonies.  Most colonies seem to need both access to sunlight and proximity to wooded edges.

Glassberg writes that there are distinct northern and southern populations.  He describes the behavior of northern populations as “nervous and active” and southern populations as “sluggish” (92).  Cech and Tudor write that Dions are “shy and reclusive—challenging to locate, and harder still to approach” (296).  They also note that they are “limited to small colonies with low population density” (296).  These comments suggest the Dions of SJ are of the southern populations.  Our individuals are often sluggish and can remind one of fireflies as they slowly drift through and over their host plants. They are often cooperative with photographers and will allow close approach.  This is not to say that they are incapable of bursts of rapid and excited flight when disturbed — which often brings them back to their starting point.  Another support for the idea that our Dions are of the southern populations is that South Jersey bogs are acidic while northern colonies prefer calcareous fens.

Female Dion on Hand Avenue, July 19, 2018, photographed by Jack Miller

New Jersey Dions are single-brooded with third-stage caterpillars overwintering.  Is it possible that yearly population fluctuations are the result of the precarious locations of host plants?  There are years when water levels stay high in South Jersey bogs and wetlands which might affect caterpillar survival rates.

Although finding Dions in SJ is easier now than it was a decade ago, they remain a species that warrants study.

Log Reports, 2008- 2020 


CMY–  3 reports (number of individuals unknown)         (7/15 – 7/25)


BUR – 4 reports of 1, 4, 1 and 1; all from Franklin Parker Preserve       (8/3 – 8/18)


CMY  1 report of 1; Belleplain area

ATL    1 report of 2; Head of River/Tuckahoe River*

BUR   1 report of 1; FPP                                                (6/27 – 7/17)

* note: There are many reports from Head of River and the Tuckahoe River that create some confusion.  The river separates ATL and CMY counties and observers may on occasion be reporting the same individuals but from two different counties.


CMY  9 reports, some of 6 or 7 individuals. 

On 7/10 Mike Crewe reports “7th site for Dion skipper this year in CMY, so far.”

ATL   1 report of 1; Hirst Ponds, Galloway                         (7/6 – 7/19)


CMY  16 reports. 

On 7/14, a report of 117 in the Belleplain (Johnson/Kerling) area with three other nearby areas raising the day’s total to 144.  This was more Dions in one day than the log had reported in its first four years.

First report of Dion in yard (Allen) from CMCH on 7/15, and second report of Dion in yard (Sutton) from Goshen on 7/19.                                  

ATL   1 report of 28 from Tuckahoe River area.

 (7/15 – 7/24)


CMY 7 reports; high count of 37 from Tuckahoe River

CAM 1 report of 8 from West Jersey Bogs

ATL 1 report of 1 

1 new yard record in Port Republic (Connor) 

OCN 1  report of 1 from Klot’s Bog                        (7/9 – 7/28)


CMY 10 reports with high count of 42 from Head of River

ATL 1 report of 45 from Head of River

CUM 2 reports Haleyville Rd. 

OCN 1 report of 1 from Warren Grove                      (7/18 – 8/13)


CMY 2 reports with high count of 30 from Lizard Tail                  (7/22 – 7/24)


CMY 20 reports with a high count of 30 from Lizard Tail.  Totals for the year were skewed in that there were 9 reports from Lizard Tail.  4 reports from Tuckahoe River with a high count of 4.  

1 new yard record in Petersburg (Miller)

CUM 1 report of 7 from Bear Swamp                            (7/14 – 8/20)


CMY 33 reports from as many as 16 locations (SJBP log’s all time high number of reports).  

High counts of 44 from Lizard Tail, 60 from Corson’s Tavern power line, and 28 from Hand Ave.

No reports from Belleplain area or Head of River/Tuckahoe River area.         

1 new yard record in CMCH (Amesbury) and two other yard records (Allen and Miller)

CUM 1 report of 1 from near Fairton.                              (7/10 – 8/12)


CMY 6 reports with a high count of 18 from Hand Ave.

1 yard report in CMCH (Amesbury)

ATL 1 report of 1 from Wharton St Forest                     (7/12 – 8/22)


CMY 6 reports with a high count of 131 from Hand Ave; all other reports were singletons. 

3 reports of yard records: Amesbury 2 (CMCH) and Miller 1 (Petersburg)

ATL 2 reports with a high count of 12 from Tuckahoe River.

CUM 1 report of 1 from Glades Preserve.                        (7/12 – 8/2)


CMY 9 reports with a high count of 350 from Hand Ave (SJBP log’s all time high number of individuals from 1 report).  

5 reports of yard records: Amesbury 3 (CMCH), Allen 1 (CMCH) and Sutton 1 (Goshen)

ATL 1 report of 1 from Port Republic (yard record; Connor)

BUR 2 reports with a high count of 5 from Franklin Parker Preserve (this was the first report from BUR since 2010 which was also from FPP).

Jack Miller (July 27, 2021)

Dion Skipper, Rt 610, CMY, on July 13, 2017, photographed by Jack Miller

Comment from Dale Schweitzer, [added 8-3-31]

Hi Jack et al.

Re Euphyes dion, nearly half of its range is south of Carex lacustris. I have seen dion with Carex lacustris in nw NJ (Carex id is?), NY, CT, and I’m pretty sure w.MA. Forbes (1960) gave the foodplant for E. dion alabamae as Carex striata which some of you may know locally as Carex walteriana, the name I first knew it as. 

With one exception I am pretty sure that is the sedge I see it with in south Jersey.  The exception was two  a few minutes apart around Scirpus cyperinus in a ditch near the Port Norris fire station.  I have seen no others there on many visits since 1989-2021, almost daily 1989-ca. 2005 since the site was on my dog-walk route. C. lacustris was never present any other place I saw E. dion down here. 

I suspect, but definitely don’t know, that south Jersey dion are that southern “subspecies”. I have no opinion whether that taxon is worthy of subspecies, full species, or synonym status.  But besides the differences in behavior you note, South Jersey dion also fly rather late, mainly about July 20 to August 5, the earliest I have seen (a photo) is about July 10. It’s not unusual to see single dion around here out of habitat on flowers such as milkweeds if buttonbush is not flowering in the habitat.. I assume they can find their way home.

Feel free to share this message. Any actual oviposition or larval records would be interesting if the sedge identity is known.

Dale S.

Posted in Compilations, Host Plants, Looking At Our Data, Skippers | Comments Off on Jack Miller: Some Thoughts On South Jersey’s Dion Skippers

A Halfway Point Check: Who’s Missing?

A painted lady (with nibbled wing) photographed by Robert Koch at Lumberton Leas, BUR, on November 16, 2020 . When we will record our first for 2021?

As of the morning of July 1, our South Jersey Log’s list includes 81 species for 2021. We had found 82 species at this time last year.

A quick review of the species not yet recorded for 2021 that we have usually found by this time in past years:

Checkered White: Recorded all years 2019-2012, sometimes not until July but missed completely last year, 2020 and found only once (a sighting of five individuals) in 2019. No checkered whites have been recorded in North Jersey since 2017.

Harvester: Recorded all years 2020 to 2012 usually before July 1, but some years not until July or August. The North Jersey Sightings Log just recorded their first last week, June 24, at the Willowood Arboretum.

Meadow Fritillary: Recorded all years 2019-2009 but often not until July or August (not recorded at all last year, 2020). North Jersey has had a number of reports this year starting in late April.

Painted Lady (?!): Recorded all previous years of our log. Only once before have we have not recorded it by this time of year. That was in 2015 when we didn’t find our first until July 17, our latest-ever FOY for that species. North Jersey has had a number of sightings this year, starting in early May.

Other “expected” species not yet recorded in our area in 2021 generally first appear after July 1st and in some years not until late August or even September: Giant Swallowtail, Little Yellow, Long-tailed Skipper, Fiery Skipper, Dion Skipper, Brazilian Skipper, and Ocola Skipper.

Of course we can also hope for some species seen occasionally but too rare to depend on: Zebra Swallowtail, Clouded Skipper, and a couple of others.

You can find more details about our log’s history of Early & Late Dates by clicking on “Early & Late Dates All Years 2008-2021” above.

Let me know if you spot errors. I will correct them here. Thank you!

And while I am at this, and halfway through our 14th year of this log:

A Big Thank-You to Jack Miller for sharing moderating responsibilities with me!

We would not have made it this far without him.

Jack Connor

July 3 update: Thanks to Steve Glynn’s find today at Wheelabrator (GLO) we have now added Ocola skipper to our list.

Posted in First Emergences | Comments Off on A Halfway Point Check: Who’s Missing?

Sharon Wander Makes Skipper ID Easier

Can you ID this skipper photographed by John Maxwell at Rancocas Nature Center (BUR) on May 10, 2010? It remains our log’s solo record for the species in South Jersey. Find the answer quickly on Sharon Wander’s new Grass Skippers Tops Guide. (Hint: she notes it is fairly common north of the Coastal Plain.)

Sharon Wander has pulled together an amazingly helpful, informative, and easy-to-use document focused on New Jersey’s grass skippers.

You can find it on the NABA-NJ Resources page (where you will find lots of other good stuff):

NABA-NJ Resources Page

Or, you can find it here: Sharon Wander’s Grass Skippers Tops Guide

Thank you, Sharon!

Jack Connor

Posted in ID Challenges & Tips, Skippers | Comments Off on Sharon Wander Makes Skipper ID Easier

Five Ways Of Understanding South Jersey’s Azures

Q: Without knowing the date or place of this photo, can you identify this butterfly to the satisfaction of all South Jersey observers?
A: Don’t even try!

[This post has been updated as on 5-5-21 to include the responses of Dale Schweitzer and Wade Wander, now to be found below “Sources“ at the end of the article]

“How many different azure species are there in South Jersey?” and “How should we ID them?” are questions that seem to come up each year about this time.

Unfortunately, the most accurate answer to both questions seems to be another question:  “Who knows?”

As a public service, the SJ Butterfly Project hereby offers five different ways to handle the conundrum. Choose the method that best matches your style and attitude and then take advantage of our money-back guarantee that you will sleep better forever after.   

Arranged by the amount of homework required for each, our five offerings include:

  • The Traditional & Simple Plan (a one-name system)
  • The Simplicity-Plus Plan (a two-name system)
  • The I-Love-Lucia Plan (a three-name system)
  • The Holly-Go-Lightly Plan (a four-name system)
  • The Welcome-To-The-Twilight-Zone Plan (an alternative four-name system)

Traditional & Simple (a one-name system):

From at least 1951 — when the Peterson Field Guide Series published A Field Guide To The Butterflies by Alexander Klots — through the 1980’s, most popular sources about butterflies and insects described a single species of “spring azure.”  It was understood to be a very variable species that showed seasonal and geographical differences in coloring and a mix of host plant preferences, and it ranged from Alaska to Florida.  In some areas it emerged in two or three broods and flew from early spring through summer.  Its hosts included blueberries (Vaccinium), hollies (Ilex), dogwoods (Cornus), meadowsweet (Spiraea), and many others. The scientific name had changed over the decades — Klots called it Lycaenopsis argiolus — but seemed to have settled on Celastrina ladon.  Opler & Krizek note in their Butterflies East Of The Great Plains (1984) that the name ladon comes from Ladon, the dragon of Greek myth with one hundred heads.  Apparently, that was intended to suggest the many forms found in the species. 

The various forms posed a challenge to any author trying to describe “spring azure” succinctly and clearly.  Klots gave it a go with just two sentences, “The pale, slightly violet-tinged blue of the upper side is frequently, sometimes strongly, whitish on the disc, particularly on the hind wings.  The underside is entirely without orange or iridescent markings and  has a ‘washed-out’ look even though it may be heavily marked with brown blotches.”  William Howe found Klots’ description so good that he copied it almost word for word in his Butterflies Of North America (1975). 

Ok, Traditional & Simple Planners, that’s all you need to know. Now it’s time for your Exit Quiz.  Name all butterflies in the following six photographs correctly, and you are excused from all further discussion immediately:

Beaver Dam Road (CMY) 3-8-16.

Higbee’s Beach WMA (CMY) April 4, 2019

Glassboro Woods WMA (GLO), April 6, 2021


Glassboro Woods WMA on April 17, 2016. 


Stockton College campus (ATL), May 19, 2012.

Mickleton backyard (GLO) July 26, 2020

Correct!  According to the Traditional & Simple Plan, they are all spring azures, Celastrina ladon

As you leave our virtual classroom today, do not be intimidated by those folks remaining here to consider other systems.  Our Traditional & Simple Plan has a solid principle at its base: Both professional and amateur lepidopterists have been using one name for all populations for more than a century.  Many, probably most, still do.   

One-Name System:


Species Name

Common Name

Host Plants in Southern NJ


Celastrina ladon

spring azure

Vaccinium, Cornus, Ilex, Spiraea, and other woody plants 

Simplicity-Plus (a two-name system):  

We turn next to those of you who are uncomfortable calling those little blue butterflies you find in your yard in July, August and September spring azures.  

The solution is our Simplicity-Plus Plan. Add a second species to your mental checklist: the summer azure. A scientific name widely recognized is Celastrina neglecta and links back to 1862 when W.H. Edwards described a summer-flying azure and gave it the species name “neglecta” because it had been so long overlooked.  

How can you identify a summer azure in the simplest way possible?  Wait until summer!  By then blueberries, hollies, and dogwoods are long past flowering.  Once those plants have set seed, any little blue butterfly you see in our area without orange below can safely be called a summer azure.   

The caterpillars feed on the flower parts of Spiraea (meadowsweet) and also must feed on the flowers of other summer-blooming host plants — because, unlike all other azure forms, neglecta adults fly in multiple broods. Also unlike all others, they continue flying into late summer and even early fall.  The full list of summer plants the adults use for ovipositing seems undetermined for our area, however.  

But you need not worry about a host plant list to adopt our Simplicity-Plus Plan.  Can you look back at our six quiz photos above and choose the butterfly you can call summer azure? 

[Hint: Ignore the field marks. Read the captions. ]

Yes, Simplicity-Plus Planners, the sixth photo — taken by Lucy Hooper in her backyard — is the only one with a summer date. You have used the two-name plan successfully. On your way out of the classroom be prepared for smart-alecks in the back of the class muttering at you, “You’re ignoring the challenge and missing all the fun! Different azures use different host plants all spring!” We recommend you respond with a snappy, “I like to be sure of my IDs!”

Two-Name System

March-May Celastrina ladon spring azure Vaccinium, Cornus, Ilex, and other spring-blooming woody plants
June-Sept Celastrina neglecta summer azure Spiraea and other summer-blooming woody plants

The I-Love-Lucia (a three-name system):  

At this point, those of you remaining are warned that azure-ID gets increasingly murky at each of the remaining three steps.  Authorities disagree with each other, field marks grow uncertain, and each observer’s subjective judgment becomes a critical factor. 

It could be worse.  Just be grateful that our five plans focus only on the azures that have been documented in NJ’s Coastal Plain counties.  Pity the poor butterflyers in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and North Jersey who (depending on where they live) might stumble upon a dusky azure (C. nigra), an Appalachian azure (C. neglectamajor), or a cherry gall azure (C. serotina).

In southern NJ it’s simpler (apparently). But you can dip just a little deeper into the complexity of azures by adding a third name to your personal checklist. This is Celastrina lucia, the blueberry azure, a.k.a. the northern azure. 

The idea that the northernmost populations of azures might represent a separate species of butterfly dates back to 1837, when William Kirby, collecting insects in Saskatchewan, named the azures he had netted there Polyommatus lucia.   For an excellent review of the many name changes since Kirby’s discovery and their different interpretations across North America, see “A Short Discussion Of Celastrina lucia” in Wright and Pavulaan (2005) at the end of this post.  

For South Jersey purposes the key message from that review is, “Recent reappraisals by Wright (1998), Nielsen (1999), Ochlenschlager& Huber (2002), and Opler & Warren (2002) have returned C. lucia (Kirby) to a full species.”  

A “textbook” photo of lucia by Dave Amadio at Glassboro Woods (GLO) on April 6, 2021: a “marginata” (the most common morph) ovipositing on the unopened bud of a blueberry in early spring.

The most distinctive feature of lucia is its close association with blueberry plants, Vaccinium.  Their annual emergence is timed to enable the adults to mate and lay eggs on the buds of blueberries, so that their caterpillars can consume the flower parts as the buds open. Unlike most butterfly species, but like all other azures, the caterpillars do not eat the leaves of their host plants. By the time blueberry leaves are fully open, the pupae of lucia are buried in the soil, where they will remain for the next ten or eleven months.

Be warned: a number of sources do not accept that the Vaccinium dependence and early emergence qualifies lucia for full species status. The North American Butterfly Association, for example, does not recognize C. lucia as a separate species.  Rick Cech & Guy Tudor in their Butterflies Of The East Coast (2005) call it a “form” of spring azure, C. ladon. They note correctly that lucia appears in different color morphs, from dark to light, and that “Separation by sight [of lucia or any azure form] is not always possible.”   Jeffrey Glassberg in his Swift Guide To The Butterflies Of North America (2012) lists only two species of azure for the entire continent:  Appalachian azure (C. neglectamajor) and spring azure (C. ladon), the latter made up of “populations using different food plants with different flight times.”    

But those of you adopting the I-Love-Lucia Plan might want to counter nay-sayers with, “Give us a break!”  You have walked the sunny, forest trails of the Coastal Plain in March and early April, when it is still weeks too early for trees to have leafed-out, and you have been thrilled to see tiny blue butterflies already flying.  These first flyers emerge while Vaccinium is just coming into bud — or even earlier.  Very few other insects can be found, but azures flutter here and there at your feet, landing on the ground or on pebbles, trying to warm themselves. Kneeling to appreciate them better, you have noticed that almost all you see — especially in March and early April — show darker undersides than any azures you encounter later in the year.  Ten different individuals can show you ten different patterns of brown, gray, and white below.  Whether that and their host plant association are evidence that they deserve full species status seems almost irrelevant.  Lucia azures are charming.  Checking them off only as “spring azures” can feel disappointing, even disrespectful.  

Lovely shot of dorsal blue on male blueberry azure, C. lucia, by Will Kerling
March 8, 2016 on Beaver Dam Road (CMY).

Unfortunately, trouble develops shortly.  By mid-to-late April other azures fly in our area, and they can be confused with lucia light-morphs. 

Sandra Keller took this intriguing photo at Glassboro Woods on April 17, 2016. All azures here look fresh and show different color patterns both among themselves and in contrast to the two previous photos. Is the dorsal male here showing a different blue than Will Kerling’s above? Are these all lucia? Or something else? Or a mix?

If you adopt the “I Love Lucia” three-name system, we recommend that you call the earliest and darkest individuals blueberry (or northern) azures, but consider dialing back your confidence level in mid-April, especially when you encounter fresh, lightly-marked azures.  Under our three-name plan you can call lightly-marked individuals after April 10-20th “spring azures” or “azure sp” until June, when summer azures (C. neglecta) emerge.  

Three-Name System 



Celastrina lucia

Celastrina ladon

blueberry (northern) azure

spring azure


Cornus, Ilex, and other  spring-blooming woody plants

June-Sept Celastrina neglecta summer azure Spiraea  and other summer- blooming woody plants

The Holly-Go-Lightly Plan (a four-name system):

Amazingly, the original suggestion that North America may hold a separate population of azures that depends on hollies for their host plants goes all the way back to the 18th century — when very little was known about Lepidoptera in the New World.  John Abott, working in Georgia, where he later discovered the first rare skippers known to science (Problema bulenta), wrote a note about azures possibly depending on Ilex in 1792.   

David Wright and Harry Pavulaan tell this story in their “Celastrina idella: A New Butterfly Species From The Atlantic Coastal Plain” (linked at the end of this post).  They describe their own discovery two centuries later of holly-feeding azures first near Chatsworth in the New Jersey Pine Barrens and later south along the coast through Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and into Georgia.  They make their argument in thorough detail that holly azure should be recognized as a new species.  

They also include a very helpful colored plate of the various forms and species of Celastrina of the Coastal Plain, which is worth studying to learn idella and other members of the complex.  In fact, you really shouldn’t try to identify holly azures until you have studied that plate and read the full article at least a couple of times.  

Three key difficulties for South Jersey observers hoping to adopt our four-name plan:   

One crucial “field mark” separating idella are the differences in its dorsal wing structures that are best seen with a dissecting microscope.   

Identifying idella by sight is tougher than lucia because the typical idella azures are lightly-colored beneath and so look more like other azures than typical dark morphs of lucia azures do.  

Finally, the flight time of idella overlaps with the flight of other azures.  Lucia, by contrast, seems to have at least a couple of weeks to itself in our area — that early period (varying by county) from early or mid-March through the first week or ten days in April.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is hollyazovipositing051912Stocktonjc.jpg
C. idella, holly azure, ovipositing on inkberry buds, May 19, 2012.

Tips For ID:  

1. Study lucia in March and early April before idella should be flying to become familiar with blueberry azure’s wide variety.  Take especially careful looks at light-colored individuals, the “violacea” morphs that look most like idella.

2. Tune into the spring bud and flower sequence in your stomping grounds for both Vaccinium and Ilex.  

a) This differs by a week or two from Cape May County north to Ocean and Burlington, but in any one area blueberries bud and begin to bloom at least three weeks (four?) before any holly does.  The prime host plants for idella in South Jersey are inkberry, (Ilex glabra), American holly (I. opaca), and smooth winterberry (I. laevigata).  The prime time for ovipositing by holly azure females is just before the flower buds of these plants open, late April and into May (varying by county).

b) Wait until local blueberries are in full flower (end of April-first week of May?) before you get overly confident in your pursuit of idella.  By that point any surviving lucia individuals still flying should be well-worn.  So, fresh azures with bright ventral patterns and hints of violet on the dorsal and circling hollies or landing on them are more likely idella

3. Dorsal colors can be hard to see and deceptive.  Try to photo them for later study.  Wright & Pavulaan describe the dorsal color of male idella individuals as “uniform light blue; some individuals with distinct purplish tint (especially in NJ pine barrens).”   In the pine barrens females sometimes also show a purplish tint, they note.

4. Finally, admit to yourself that it is often not possible to put a name (other than “spring azure” or “azure, sp.”) on every azure you see.  Trying to identify an azure in non-stop flight is especially dubious.    

Four-Name System 

March-April Celastrina lucia blueberry (northern) azure Vaccinium
April-May Celastrina idella

Celastrina ladon

holly azure

spring azure


Cornus & other woody plants 

June-Sept Celastrina neglecta summer azure Spiraea & other summer blooming woody plants

Welcome To The Twilight Zone (an alternative four-name plan)  

All South Jersey butterflyers live in an azure twilight zone whether we want to admit it or not.  In fact, butterflyers across most of North America live in that zone.  Experts disagree with one another about how many different populations should be called separate species, but all seem to agree that Celastrina is a complex in flux.  

Most authorities also seem to agree that distinguishing the populations from each other is difficult for all observers, even veterans and experts. For observers equipped only with binoculars and cameras species-ID may sometimes be borderline-impossible.  

But if you are willing to accept that the azures are in flux and keep in mind that any name you assign to any single azure should be considered tentative, exploring the twilight zone can be fun.   With the right can-do spirit you might even contribute to a better understanding of the group.

Our South Jersey Butterfly Sightings Log could certainly use more photographs of azures ovipositing, especially those in which the plants can be identified.  At the moment we have very few such shots — even of the multi-brooded summer azure, C. neglecta.  We do not seem to have a single photograph of an azure laying eggs on dogwood buds, although Cornus is a well-known host for azures.  Other plants of NJ’s Coastal Plain that have been listed as suspected host plants for azures include species of Aronia, Viburnum, and Prunus.  We seem to have few, if any, notes or photos from observers recording ovipositing by azures on any of those plants.  (Please write to me if I have overlooked any such observations by you or someone else!)  If you are willing to take on the full challenges of azure chasing, trying to document adults laying their eggs or azure caterpillars feeding on flower parts would make worthy focus points.    

The four-name plan below adds question marks to the host plants lists to accentuate the need for more data. The alternative common name “Edward’s azure” has been substituted for “spring azure” to clarify that C. ladon in the Wright & Pavulaan system is a dogwood-feeding early-spring azure, not the general name a complex of populations with multiple host plants as most observers use “spring azure.”  C. ladon has also been moved ahead of C. idella because dogwood forms buds before hollies do.

C. ladon, as Wright & Pavulaan use the name, seems a rare butterfly in our area — or at least has been escaping detection. Could using the name “Edward’s azure” help us be alert to it?  Paging through the past few years of azure reports, I found several photographs of “spring azures” that are at least suggestive of Edward’s.  The second photo in our line-up above — by Harvey Tomlinson at Higbee’s Beach WMA — was one.  I chose to include it because it is an exceptionally sharp shot and was taken in early April (around the time when flowering dogwood could be budding, weeks before any hollies would be).  It could be C. lucia, obviously, but I can persuade myself that it seems a little too dark for a “violaceae” lucia and a little too light for “marginata.” In any case, this blog post needed to end with a puzzler, so here it is again for your contemplation or comments.  

A puzzler — photographed by Harvey Tomlison at Higbee’s Beach WMA on April 4, 2019.

Alternative Four-Name System

March-April Celastrina lucia blueberry (northern) azure Vaccinium and ??
April only (?) Celastrina ladon Edward’s azure Cornus and ??  
April-May Celastrina idella holly azure Ilex and ??
June-Sept Celastrina neglecta summer azure Spiraea and ??

Sources & Supplemental Infoand a request for comments

The field guide with the best section on the azure complex is James Monroe’s and David Wright’s Butterflies Of Pennsylvania (2017).  Holly azure is not included because it has not yet been found in that state, but six other azures are described in detail and illustrated with multiple images each.  Monroe and Wright also include a very helpful chart of seasonal flight times and host plants. And the book makes a superb addition to your butterfly sources for many other reasons as well.

David Wright and Harry Pavulaan have authored many relevant papers that you can find on-line. Two that were especially helpful in composing this post:

Wright & Pavulaan, Celastrina idella: A New Butterfly Species From The Atlantic Coastal Plain (1999):

Wright & Pavulaan, Celastrina serotina: A New Butterfly Species From The Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada (2005):

Finally, I recognize that I have simplified the complexities of this complex — and skipped past some alternative interpretations — in an attempt to help observers try to make sense of this puzzling group. No doubt I have made errors as well. Please email me if you can suggest corrections or have additions that you think worthy of inclusion. I will appreciate any comments or questions that come my way. (Please use email; spam bots have forced us to disable the Comments Tool for this blog.)

And thanks to all who have made it to the end of this long post!

Jack Connor

Update on 5-5-21:

Dale Schweitzer and Wade Wander have both kindly responded with their own views on the topic:

Dale Schweitzer:

Thanks for sending.  I read it and rechecked a couple of books.  Gochfeld and Burger may well be the first book to get them right or very close [jc: This is Butterflies Of New Jersey (1997) which I should have mentioned myself as Dale is correct that G&B were ahead of their time in describing the the azure complex so well].  Their Pine Barrens azure is now C. idella.  Monroe and Wright’s PA book [Butterflies Of Pennsylvania (2019)] is the most accurate, but since C. idella is not in PA it’s less helpful around here.  The four in South Jersey seem to have completely non-overlapping local food plants except that local ladon sometimes use holly, but usually are not found with it. C. lucia occasionally uses other Ericaceae and Prunus farther north but is almost exclusively highbush blueberries here

 Identifications are much easier without ladon, e.g. in the Pine Barrens. C. lucia is rather easy to separate from C. idella  as well as C.neglecta, including the early (April) neglecta. BTW the phenology for C. neglecta given for PA matches here perfectly. There is a small April emergence, about a month before the main peak. Neglecta and idella are often apparent by habitat, e.g. 99% neglecta in my yard vs. close to or quite zero in the woods. The April neglecta females oviposit on Prunus serotina flowers in my yard. I reared a brood a few years ago from an April female neglecta and eclosion was very staggered with a few in each of June, July, August, September, and April, all normal summer azures.  They overlapped the end of the first brood.  It is worth pointing out that Delaware Bay (holly–feeding) C. idella fly earlier than the PB inkberry feeders.  C. idella here consistently start by mid-late April.  BTW C. lucia starts in late February in  mild winters here.

A sometimes overlooked character is that ladon rarely and neglecta possibly never have the “lucia” patch on the HW.  Most C. lucia also lack it and I cannot usually separate these “marginata” forms of  lucia from ladon in the field.  Ladon and lucia males in hand (by wing scales) may be the only really certain identifications.  C. idella and C. serotina seem virtually impossible to separate but apparently their ranges do not overlap.


Wade Wander:

Your recap on the azures was interesting and enjoyable to read. I can appreciate how much work you put into it. Now, however, I have to list some of the things I believe and some I don’t believe:  

I believe in the Seven Fundamental Laws Of Nature; Bernoulli’s Principle; Newton’s laws of motion; the laws of supply and demand; a $15 minimum wage; Reese’s peanut butter cups; tiger beetles; mask-wearing; the inherent goodness and generosity of human beings; that butterflies are nothing more than day-flying moths; that lawns should be small and poorly maintained; that there will always be winners and losers as a result of environmental change; that qualified immunity for police and gerrymandering need to be done away with; that the photo of Elvis, Bigfoot, and an alien from another world standing together is probably a fake; that corporations are not people; and that Orangutans are morally superior to most politicians. 

But as an avowed taxonomic lumper:

I do not believe in the “Alder Flycatcher” or in the “Cackling Goose”; nor do I believe in the variously split “species” of Red Crossbill; nor in the idea that there are more than three species of violets in NJ (white, yellow, and purple); 

… and most of all I do not believe there is more than one species of azure—Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon)!


Posted in Host Plants, ID Challenges & Tips, Lycaenids | Comments Off on Five Ways Of Understanding South Jersey’s Azures

Wade Wander: The Cicadas Are Coming

(Wikicommons image.)

Get ready, everyone!  Sometime in the next month or so, Brood X periodical cicadas should emerge from underground, where they have been feeding on tree roots since 2004.  According to the University of Connecticut’s newest map, Brood X ranges from western New Jersey west through Indiana to eastern Illinois and south to eastern Kentucky and northern Georgia.

Periodical Cicada Broods Map from The University of Connecticut. Brood X is represented by purple ovals.

How many you will see (and hear!) seems hard to predict and also may depend on where in the state you live — or how far from home you care to explore.  As a public service for all interested, Wade Wander has provided the informative account and wonderful photos at the link below to help us understand this amazing phenomenon.    

Wade Wander: The Cicadas Are Coming


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A Male Monarch Mystery?

A male monarch photographed by Kathy Horn at Cape May Point State Park on May 16, 2020. Could this be a new record early date for a male monarch on our log?

[This post has been updated as of 5/29/20.  See Comments from Emile DeVito and Jack Miller below — and a link to Journey North with further information.]

Kathy Horn’s photograph above sparked a search for comments or other photos on the log of male monarchs arriving in April and May, when the species first reaches our area each spring.  

Female monarchs are fairly easy to find in South Jersey in spring, especially as May nears its end.  Many gardeners with milkweed in their yards have seen their first monarch of the year fly quickly to the new shoots and immediately begin laying eggs.

How often has your first monarch in spring been a male, however? 

The first arriving monarchs are most likely “Generation 1” individuals, off-spring of their long-lived parents that wintered in the Mexican mountains — the “Methuselah” generation.  That brood lives for eight months, emerging from chrysalises in late summer, migrating south in fall to over-winter in the Mexico, and mating there in late winter.  Some Internet searching failed to find information about the percentage of males vs. females that migrate northward back to the U.S. (anyone know a source?).  Female “Methuselahs” cross the border for a second time and lay eggs on emerging milkweeds in Texas, Louisiana, and other southern states in March and April.  Over the next six weeks or so those eggs hatch and the caterpillars emerge, grow through five instars, pupate, and emerge to mate and fly north themselves.  These are “Generation 1,” the first of the new year.  

For details about the timing and migration strategy of all 3-4 annual generations, see the Monarch Joint Venture’s excellent website: 

The Monarch Joint Venture: Annual Cycle

Our Sightings Log allows searches for photographs back to fall 2015 when we adopted the David Reese system.  We collected a couple of dozen reports of monarchs in April and May 2016-2019, but no observer mentioned seeing a male.  Of the eight photos of the species posted during those two months only one shows a certain male:

Our only certain male monarch photographed before June 1, 2016-2019 — and it was found on the last day of the period, May 31, 2017, by Steve Glynn at Lummis Pond, CUM.

Males are most easily differentiated with dorsal views when their two bulging scent patches on the hind wings are generally visible, as in Kathy Horn’s photo.  Sexing monarchs from their ventral sides requires a closer look.  The scent patch on each hind wing creates a slight bulge to the vein that holds it.  Here’s a helpful image from Monarch Butterfy

You can see this subtle difference by comparing Steve’s photo with Dolores Amesbury’s photo here:

A female monarch:  no bulge evident in the distinguishing vein.  Photo’d by Dolores Amesbury in her garden in Cape May Courthouse, 5-29-19. 

The lack of reports and photographs of males in April and May could very well be due to chance and our scant data. It might also simply be a consequence of females being easier to spot as they come to gardens to oviposit. 

Still, it might be a real pattern, worth trying to track and document.  Could it be more advantageous for adult males of “Generation 1” to remain in the southern areas where they emerged and spend their energy chasing down mates rather than risk the migration northward? If they can fertilize females on their original home grounds, who will carry their DNA northward, why fly north themselves?  

So, this post is a request for comments and/or photographs of male monarchs recorded before June 1 in South Jersey.   You may have some photos from that period that you simply did not submit to the log — or you may have shots of early males that date back to years before 2015. 

Any comments or photos emailed to nacotejackATgmailDOTcom will be included immediately in updates to this post.  (If you would prefer not to have them posted, just let me know.) 

NOTE:  the Comments tool below has been disabled by  spam-bot attacks.  Just email me and I will upload your comments.  

Thanks to anyone who can contribute to this discussion!

Jack Connor

Update, May 26, 2020:

Emile DeVito:

“Who needs males? If the arriving females are fertile and laying eggs, presumably they mated farther south where the generation 1 adults emerged. There is no need for males to migrate north, IF and only IF they fertilize the females upon emergence down south. It would make evolutionary sense for ONLY the fertile females to have to continue the northward expansion, since then fewer individuals would need to succeed on the perilous trip. Only fertile females really need to come north, UNLESS they have to mate here just before laying eggs. Can they store sperm like female rattlesnakes, and make the heavier eggs when they get here?”
Thank you, Emile!  Your comment inspired a little more Internet searching and a find of the page linked below from Journey North, quoting Dr. Karen Obenhauser who has been studying monarchs since 1985.  She notes that females can store sperm that remain viable for several weeks and that her studies using mark/release/recapture have found that females generally disperse more quickly from their original place of emergence,
“We rarely recapture females in the same locations in which we release them. However, we recapture about 15-20% of the males if we go back to the same area one to four days later. This suggests that females are leaving the areas, while many males remain longer in the same location. Males tend to patrol an area–leading to their being recaptured more frequently in the same locale. In contrast, female flight appears to be more directional. Females are captured less frequently because they do not remain in the same area as long. Rather, they cover more area in their lifetime, probably in pursuit of milkweed.”
That suggests males are more likely to remain behind while females migrate away.  However, she also notes, 
“When females mate multiple times, most (but not all) of the eggs they lay are fertilized by sperm from the LAST male with which they mated.”
That suggests, it would seem, that there might be an advantage to a male flying north to NJ to mate with a newly arriving female. 
So, the question has complications, which makes it more fun, imho!
jc 5/27/20
from Jack Miller, 5/29/20:
“It makes sense that males might lag behind to greet and mate with arriving or emerging females.  This strategy would be more efficient than flying north and hoping to find milkweed patches where females are present. I have noticed that females in May will often only spend minutes at my yard’s milkweed patch. Later in the summer, they will hang around for hours.  I wonder if the summer bugs were tagged or had significant identifying wear marks if we would find that they might stay for days?  I will pay more attention to that this summer.
Where do the males come from that fertilize eggs for future generations as monarchs continue their northward migration?  Do males live longer?  Do southern males eventually fly north to arrive in time to mate with emerging next generation females?  Do next generation males eclose before next generation females? 
Almost all of the May and early June monarchs I have seen have been flying due north as fast as they can unless there is a milkweed patch; therefore, there are few opportunities for photos.  It is not surprising that we have so few photos of early season monarchs in our log.”
Jack Miller
Thank you, Jack.  More questions to try to answer about this butterfly, even though it may be the best-studied butterfly in North America.

PS:  Anyone who would like to try their own hand at finding a male in our other photographs of monarchs, April to May, 2016-2020, can go to the relevant log reports here (corrections will be welcomed):

May 31, 2019 Meredith Koenig Vineland CUM

May 19, 2019 Dave Amadio Wheelabrator GLO

April 22, 2019 Harvey Tomlinson Stimpson Is CMY

May 11, 2018, Fred Kahan Medford Leas BUR

April 26, 2018, Jesse Amesbury Holgate, OCN

May 31, 2017, Debbie Lux Medford Leas BUR


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Log Sightings & Park Closures

[May 2 Update: Governor Murphy re-opened the state parks today. Leaving the note below for future reference.]

South Jersey Butterflyers & Friends,

As everyone knows, we are living through a disorienting and frightening time.  Decisions that were so simple two months ago have become problematic.  Even “Where should I go walking today?” has become a complicated question.

Governor Murphy’s Executive Order on April 7 closing all state and county parks has also created a problem for us as moderators of the South Jersey Butterfly Sightings Log.  We want to encourage everyone to get out and search for butterflies — walking outdoors in safe areas is good for any naturalist’s mental and physical health (obviously), and your reports create valuable data. We believe, however, that allowing reports from restricted areas could be seen as disrespect for the Governor’s measures.  

Whether or not it was the right choice to close the parks, the Executive Order came as one component of a much larger and crucially important effort to save lives by flattening the curve of the pandemic.  

Out of respect for that decision and in general support of any attempt to protect NJ residents from the virus, we are encouraging people to stay away from closed areas. 

We are also announcing here that the log will not be posting reports from those closed areas.

Questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome, of course.

Stay safe and keep exploring — when and where you can!

Jack Miller
Jack Connor


South Jersey Butterfly Project

Update: Emile DeVito, Manager of Science & Stewardship for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, has kindly responded to our email about this desicion with a reminder about New Jersey WMAs and NJCF Preserves.  He has also sent a helpful map of Michael Huber Preserve which is linked below.  

He writes, “Southern NJ has so many NJ Div F&W WMAs and they are ALL still open. Please encourage folks to use those areas with proper safeguards until other areas open up. Also, all NJCF Preserves in southern NJ are open except Franklin Parker Preserve. Explore especially Michael Huber Preserve!”

The map is here: NJCF Michael Huber Preserve Trail Map

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