Family Lycaenida, Gossamer Wing Butterflies – Jewels of the Insect World
Also known as the Great Blue Hairstreak, Atlides halesus is one of the largest gossamer wing butterflies, but it’s solitary and uncommon. The caterpillars feed on mistletoes (Phoradendron spp.) and there are several broods during the year.
The best time to view the Great Purple Hairstreak is whenever Desert Broom or Seep Willow are in bloom, although I just observed on in the backyard enjoying the nectar of Desert Marigold:
- Egg – 4 to 6 days
- Caterpillar – 3 to 4 weeks
- Chrysalis – 10 to 20 days
- Adult – 4 to 10 days
Caterpillars are unremarkable in color (mostly match the mistletoe host) and about 1″ long. The species gains protective toxins from their larval host plants that stay in their system into adulthood. Adult butterflies have their orange and black colorings to signal the protective toxins and even have a behavior of rubbing their wings together. This draws attention to the markings on their back wings that serve as a “false head.”
The larvae pupate in well-protected areas close to the base of the tree, under pieces of bark or fallen leaves.
In the spring, male butterflies compete for the right to occupy the highest point in a territory in order to attract a female.