Gray Hairstreak

Later in the day, under a sunny, deep-blue sky, I went out looking for butterflies, but found many fewer than I’d hoped. I couldn’t find even one in our own yellow-blooming lantana, and on the edge of a neighbor’s yard – where five big mounds of orange and pink lantana grow more than five feet tall – there were only a few more. Some small Fiery Skippers, one flashy orange Gulf Fritillary, one Long-tailed Skipper with its smudged turquoise body. Along the old field, a scattering of lemon-yellow Cloudless Sulphurs fluttered over the weeds, and one Red-spotted Purple flew past me, flashing the iridescent-blue in its wings. But overall – distressingly few. 

Back at home, I stopped to check out our lantana again, and at first saw only leaves and yellow flowers and one bumblebee – then one very small shape caught my eye, a stray glint of light. It was a tiny, silver-gray butterfly that used to be common here, but I haven’t seen in a very long time – a Gray Hairstreak. It was not very fluttery, and sat for long periods on each yellow bloom, with its wings folded up demurely, so I was able to kneel down and see it well.

At first glance almost insubstantial and plain in its twilight color, with a closer look, a Gray Hairstreak becomes a delight of intricate and colorful detail. The silver-gray wings are marked on the underside with dark, wavering patterns edged with white; the wing edges all around are finely lined with black and white. On the back edge of the wings, a patch of orange and black creates an eyespot. And tiny, threadlike “tails” extend from the wings, with small, round, bright-white tips. Together, the eyespot and the tails of a Gray Hairstreak create the illusion of a “head” that is thought to draw a predator’s attention away from the butterfly’s real head – so if it’s attacked, it might only lose a part of the back of its wings, and survive.

I watched for several minutes as it probed one bloom for a while, and then another, and another –rubbing its folded wings together in a way that made the wispy tails tremble – and finally fluttered away.  

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