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Which end is which?

July 3, 2018

This little butterfly is a Hairstreak, probably a Red-Banded Hairstreak. There is a Dusky-Blue Hairstreak that looks a lot like its cousin and it is possible that they are really one species. They both employ the same little trick, which isn’t really apparent in a still photo, so I have posted a video below.

Imagine you are a tasty one-inch butterfly who would prefer to keep on living. You don’t have teeth and you aren’t poisonous. You aren’t even particularly fast. In fact, you spend a lot of time just sitting still. So what’s to keep faster, toothier, hungrier insects from gobbling you up? That’s where your trick comes in. Look at the still photo at the top of this post. You can pretty clearly see that the head is to the left. You can see the stripy legs and the adorably striped antennae. The eye is an oval black shape outlined in white.

Now, look at the hind end. It looks kind of ragged, with tiny protrusions and a bunch of black spots outlined in white. Kind of like those eyes. Even the rake of the orange streak makes it look as though the butterfly would likely move left to right, as though the head were at the back.

There’s the trick!

And Hairstreaks really sell it. They are never quite still. The front end is pretty steady, but that back end is always rubbing up and down, enhancing the illusion that the spots are eyes and the protrusions are antennae.

If you are thinking a small butterfly like this looks kind of tasty, you want to make a quick kill on the fleshy (tasty) part of the Hairstreak. Pick the wrong end, and all you get is a mouth full of papery wing to spit out as the Hairstreak flies away. So watch the video below and tell me which end you might attack if you were not quite as clever as a human reading a blog post, and were more like a hungry insect? And that’s why we have so many of these guys flying around our Park!

(You will probably notice that there are several video clips strung together. Your blogger is not the world’s best videographer and I wanted you to get a good look.)