WDEL Blog: Eclectic Hobbies with Allan Loudell

Comparatively Rare Hairstreak Butterflies in Serpentine Barrens

Since I worked here Friday, July 3rd, and also anchored WDEL's coverage of the Saturday night, Fourth of July fireworks from the Wilmington Riverfront, I had Monday July 6th off.

Took full advantage of the day off to visit the Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area - the Soldiers Delight Serpentine Barrens - in western Baltimore County.

Apart from the butterflies, serpentine barrens are quite fascinating... rugged rock with thin soil supporting scrub oak and pine, cedar, and blue-stem grasses PLUS some rather rare wildflowers.

(Soldiers Delight and the Bare Hills section of Baltimore City produced the most chrome in the world -- in the 19th century.)

Anyway, serpentine barrens represent prime habitat for several creatures, including the Edwards' Hairstreak butterfly, Satyrium edwardsii, which inhabits scrub oak thickets in open rocky habitats. Early July is the height of the flight season.

Although not exactly flashy, the tiny Edwards Hairstreak is subtly beautiful with a band of dark brown oval spots, a sky blue tail-spot, and some orange. It always rests with its wings vertically in-the-air.

I found five on scrub oak down a trail along a power-line cut. They're easy to miss, and you want to avoid tromping all over the place, because of the scarce delicate vegetation.

(Edwards' Hairstreak caterpillars have a critical dependency with ant colonies at the base of scrub oaks. The caterpillars hide during the day in ant nests. The ants "protect" the larvae, and in return, the ants feed on honeydew from the caterpillars!)

Also found a lone American Copper along that trail. Elsewhere, in wetter sections of the woods, Common Wood-Nymphs, with their bright orange-yellow patches.

But most other butterflies were scarce. In fact - perhaps the result of the rainy, cool June in the Delaware Valley - we've seen fewer butterfly species and numbers of individuals this summer.

Don't be surprised if you haven't had a single Eastern Tiger Swallowtail or Monarch on the butterfly bush in your yard. Numbers way down. In fact, we're between the first and second broods of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in the Delaware Valley, but usually you see at least a few individuals in between. Not this year!

Posted at 9:40am on July 7, 2009 by Allan Loudell

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