Monday, May 14, 2012

The Celastrina Mystery Deepens

So a while back I was researching the Lycaenidae and their insanely fascinating life cycles and had run across this badass PDF on the association with ants within the Lycaenidae (Myrmecophily "ant love") and it got me wondering what exactly did the life cycle entail for Celastrina spp.?

More specifically for Celastrina argiolus and Celastrina neglecta since we supposedly, or rather I should say possibly get both "species" around here. So I started researching and was "reminded" of their seriously fucked taxonomy. >_<

Not only that but I think I'm going to have to edit my list of butterflies and moths in my beloved park again solely due to this:

"There were a lot of these flying around a dirt path by the edge of a woodsy area. I only got the one open-wing shot; luckily it turned out reasonably good! I didn't even realize at the time that it's apparently quite difficult to catch these guys with their wings open.

Peterson's Field Guide to Butterflies has this butterfly labeled as the summer form of Celastrina argiolus, common name Spring Azure. A Google search of "celastrina argiolus" turns up a bunch of results about the Holly Azure. Both of those names appear to be different species here on BugGuide, and there is no page for argiolus. Is it still a recognized species? Or is it now called something else?"

- Joel Gardner, Bugguide

And the response:

"The name was actually given to a Eurasian insect. However, for many years it was thought that ours were all the same variable species with a wide range across two continents. However, now it is thought by many people that none our "Azures" are the same as any of those found in Eurasia, and the name C. argiolus has been dropped for all of ours. Another development is that the idea of all of ours being the same species has changed. It is now understood that we have some populations that are definitely distinct species with different coloration and other characteristics that make them recognizable, and that do not interbreed with one another. There are also lots of populations that use different food plants, or seem to appear at different seasons, but that are not easy to draw lines between. Right now seems to be a phase of learning and naming, and many new names are being given to such populations as if they are really new species. Some likely are, and many likely are not. There has been much study, but needs to be much much more before these Blues are fully understood. To add to the confusion, they are variable in coloring and patterning within populations, and different "broods" of the same population may look quite different (probably the coloring and pattern is affected by things like day length, temperature, and even humidity). So, right now, to sort them out based on photographs alone, is very difficult. Especially since there are varied and conflicting opinions on what is going on. [Personally, I think there are few very adaptable and highly varied species - non many. I also have no problem with the idea that some of ours really could be the same as some of the Eurasian species.]"

- David J. Ferguson, Bugguide

And the response to that:

So basically what it comes down to is, the experts are nearly as confused as I am. Better leave this ID at the genus level for now (though I'll keep it labeled with argiolus in my photo collection; stick to the outdated but more stable taxonomy)

- Joel Gardener, Bugguide

First please don't sue for quoting you guys *^^* I'm trying to understand something here just as we all are on these highly confusing butterflies. @_@

Where's Nabokov when you need him?

So any way it looks like I might have to rewrite my list. If Celastrina argiolus is not a "full species" and......let me stop before I give myself a migraine. Based on observations I had made last year at one point in time I had thought I was seeing both C. argiolus and C. neglecta solely due to the fact that Bugguide had mention that any Azure seen flying after July 1st in the mid-Atlantic region is probably C. neglecta.

But now I'm having doubts as to exactly what I'm seeing. For one I'm not sure if I'm in the mid-Atlantic region. I can tell you I'm NYC, in Manhatten in Harlem and I'm infested up to my knees with butterflies, and all sorts of wonderful insecty goodness.

But is this the mid-Atlantic region? Can anyone confirm? Also Bugguide doesn't have a page for C. argiolus and now I can kind of understand why. But getting back to my observations that's making want to know what I'm seeing.

The blues normally come out around this time (haven't seen any yet.....I blame the weather.) from late April (maybe) through May-June. Last year I remember observing a particularly "friendly" female nectaring on button bush which is where I normally see them excluding individuals passing by my house.

She had her wings open and from what I remember looked sort of like the one in the photo taken by the observer I quoted from Bugguide (links below). Then there was the male I had rescued from the pool in August that changed "everything" I thought I knew about them at the time and just posed more questions.

So at that time I did research and came across Bugguide's neglecta page mentioning that any Azure flying after July 1st is probably C. neglecta. Which sated me for the time being until now. Until this came up while I was researching local Lycaenidae.

In other words: WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!!!


C. argiolus speculation
Bugguide's C. neglecta Page

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