Hunt for Henry’s Elfin Larval Hostplants

What a strange spring (but what does a “normal” spring look like). Once in a while a nice “butterfly day” followed by another week of cold weather. I guess it’s been several weeks ago Jen and I made our annual spring pilgrimage to Harlan County Reservoir to kick off butterfly season. We were met there by Jonathan Nikkila and Dr. Bryan Drew from UNK. Of course the season was a little behind and the only nectar sources were plum blossoms. The temps were only in the 60s but it was sunny and if you stayed on the south side of the trees out of the north wind there were a few butterflies out. We ended up finding around 10 Henry’s Elfins, 1 Juniper Hairstreak, 1 Grey Hairstreak, 1 Anglewing, 1 Tiger Swallowtail, 1 Olympia Marblewing,  1 Dainty Sulfur,  a couple of Red Admirals, Cabbages and Alfalfas, and about a half dozen Baptisia Duskywings in a couple of hours. That was the most Henry’s Elfins I’d ever seen there. And many miles from their southeastern Nebraska larval hostplant, Redbud trees.

I kind of let that pass until Steve Spomer motivated me into writing by reporting he found an elfin at Nine Mile Prairie last week with not a redbud tree in sight. So what are the larvae eating? The butterfly is not known to travel far so it has to be a local host. And if it’s not Redbud, then what is it and where else might it be found. In addition to being a spring flier, it is small, drab and easily overlooked. So it is likely much more widespread than reported. Keep your eyes out for the next couple of weeks for this curious little butterfly and let us know if you see one (nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com). Of the shrubs/small trees listed as larval hostplants in literature, a Prunus species (wild plum or chokecherry) seems most likely in Nebraska. Be alert for this dime sized butterfly in the vicinity of woody shrubs or small trees, on the sunny side of shelterbelts, and on nearby flowers.

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