There are over 6,000 species of gossamer-winged butterflies, divided into 7 subfamilies: Lycaenidae, Miletinae, Polyommatinae, Theclinae, Portiinae, Aphnaeinae, and Curetinae, all being tiny butterflies in various colors and patterns.
Gossamer Winged Butterflies Info
Gossamer-winged butterflies of the order Lepidoptera belong to the family Lycaenidae (superfamily: Papilionoidea), the second largest after the Nymphalidae family.
Lycaenidae family can be divided into four common subfamilies:
- Blues (Polyommatinae) – the upper surface of wings is blue, and the females are darker than males.
- Harvesters (Melitaeinae) – these species have special wing veins.
- Hairstreaks (Theclinae) – brown or grey with colorful markings on their wings
- Coppers (Lycaenidae) – brown or orange with coppery orange on their wings
Where Do Gossamer Winged Butterflies Live?
Gossamer-winged butterflies prefer terrestrial habitats where their food plants grow, including vegetated areas, grasslands, and woodlands.
Gossamer butterflies live in:
- various parts of the US
What Do Gossamer Winged Butterflies Eat?
Gossamer caterpillar host plants include many species of plants in the mallow, spurge, and pea family, including clovers and alfalfa. Harvester caterpillars are carnivorous and feed on aphids, ants, and other small insects.
Adult gossamer butterflies drink nectar from various flower species. For example, adult blues nectar from dogbane, common milkweed, and blackberry.
Why Are They Called Gossamer Butterflies?
Gossamer butterflies got their name after the translucent, filmy fabric called gossamer. The wings of gossamer butterflies are also very thin and delicate, like the fabric.
Butterflies in This Family
Some of the most common and interesting gossamer butterflies are:
- Juniper hairstreak
- Colorado hairstreak
- Great purple hairstreak
- Common Blue
- Red-banded hairstreak
- Purple hairstreak
- American copper
- Green hairstreak
- Silvery blue
- Gray hairstreak
- Eastern tailed-blue
- Spring azure
The Juniper hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus), also known as Olive hairstreak butterflies, have a 1-inch to 1. 25 inches wingspan with tawny orange upperside on males and black-brown on females. The caterpillars are bright green with white markings.
Olive hairstreaks are common in North America in habitats such as cedar breaks, juniper woodlands, and old fields.
The Colorado hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus) has a 1.25 to 1.5 inches wingspan. The wing’s upperside is dark purple with orange spots and a dark black border. The larva is green and hairy.
Colorado’s state butterflies are common in the US and frequent oak woodlands and scrubs.
Great Purple Hairstreak
The Great purple hairstreak (Atlides halesus), also known as the Great blue hairstreak, has 1.25 inches to 1.5 inches wingspread. The wings are iridescent blue with a black border, and the hindwings have two black hairstreaks (tails).
These butterflies are common in the Southern US and Mexico. Great purple hairstreak caterpillars are green and covered with light orange hairs.
The Common blue (Polyommatus icarus) is a small butterfly with blue upper wings and a black-brown border in males. Females’ upper wings are brown-blue with orange spots. The wingspan is 1.1 inches to 1.4 inches. The larvae are green and furry.
Common blues live in Europe, the Canary Islands, North Africa, and Iran. Favorite habitats of these butterflies include meadows, sand dunes, and woodland clearings.
The Red-banded hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops) butterflies are medium-sized with a 1/3 to 1-inch wingspread. The underside of the wings is gray-brown with a red-orange band. The hindwings have two tails. The caterpillars can grow up to 0.6 inches and have a brown coloration and short hair.
Red-banded hairstreaks are common in the Southern US and prefer habitats such as coastal hammocks and forest edges.
The Purple hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus) is black-brown with shiny purple patches that are more visible in males. The average wingspan of these butterflies is 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 inches. The caterpillars are leech-shaped with beige-yellow coloration and are covered with short fine hairs.
Purple hairstreaks distribution ranges from Europe, Anatolia, Transcaucasia, Caucasia, and some parts of North Africa. Habitats of this species include woods, parks, and hedgerows.
The American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) is a summer butterfly with 0.75- to 1.5-inch wingspread. The forewing’s upper surface has a shiny, orange-red coloration with black spots. The hindwings are gray with an orange-red margin. American cooper larvae have various colorations, from a reddish hue to yellow-green.
Lycaena phlaeas butterflies are widespread throughout North America, South and North Africa, Asia, and Europe. The preferred habitats include landfills, road edges, and woodland clearings.
Green hairstreaks (Callophrys rubi) are small butterflies with a reverse wing coloration, dull brown upper sides, and bright green undersides. These species’ wingspan is 1 inch to 1.2 inches. The caterpillars are green, with a yellow-marked back.
Callophrys rubi distribution includes in Europe, Asia, and United Kingdom. These butterflies prefer wetlands, heathlands, and poor dry meadows.
Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) has an about 1-inch wingspan with light blue upperside in males and gray-blue in females. The undersides are gray with a row of round spots. Glaucopsyche lygdamus larvae are green with a vertical maroon line.
Silvery blues are native to North America and can also be found in Canada. This species’ favorite habitats include dunes, wooded areas, meadows, and road edges.
The Gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus), also called Cotton square borer or Bean lycaenid has 1 inch to 1.5 inches wingspan. The upper side of the wings is gray with an orange spot, and the undersides are gray with black and white lines. Gray hairstreak caterpillars are green.
These butterflies are widespread in North America, Central America, and South America. They live in various habitats, including tropical forests, meadows, and farmlands.
The Eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas) is a small butterfly with a 0.75 to 1.75 inches wingspan. The upper side of the wings has various colorations. Some are light blue to charcoal, and others are purple and pink. The undersides can be blue/white or tan. Caterpillars have various colors; light tan, pinkish olive, and gray-green.
Cupido comyntas are common in North America and South America. These species prefer open, disturbed areas such as roadsides and yards.
The Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) is a small butterfly with about an inch wingspan. The wings are blue when open and medium gray when closed. Caterpillars have a whitish-green or green coloration.
Spring azure butterflies are found in North America, and they live in old fields and freshwater swamps.
Gossamers’ Bond With Ants
The association of gossamer butterflies with ants can be mutualistic, predatory, or parasitic. About 75% of the associations are mutualistic.
Species such as the blues use ants to protect them from predators and parasites. Some caterpillars can produce vibrations and secretions to attract the ants.
Larvae secret honeydew, a sweet liquid that the ants use for food. In return, the ants tend to the larvae and protect them from predators.
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Tabitha is a nature lover who loves nothing more than a day spent outdoors. With her introverted personality, she often finds herself seeking solitude in the outdoors. She loves the feeling of being surrounded by nature and the peace it brings her. She also finds herself drawn to the beauty that exists in this world, whether it’s a majestic waterfall or a butterfly fluttering by.