This is probably one of my favorite group of butterflies (skippers actually). Members of the genus Hesperia are native prairie specialists. Finding any of them today is to rediscover habitat roughly unchanged from what white settlers first encountered when entering our area in the early 1800s. They are the insect equivalents of the American Bison. There are three subspecies of Hesperialeonardus. The nominate subspecies (leonardus) is found in the eastern United States and has a distinct band on the ventral hindwing. Subspecies montana is largely restricted to the Rocky Mountain populations. Subspecies pawnee was described by Dodge in 1874 with the type locality (see Jan 2 post for a type locality discussion) being “Glencoe, Nebraska, upon high rolling prairie (Dodge County)”. While the ventral hindwing of subspecies pawnee is immaculate (largely unicolored and devoid of markings) specimens intermediate with leonardus, with a small degree of maculation, are not uncommon in Nebraska. The species is strongly dimorphic with males displaying a distinct black stigma and females lacking that and being more mottled. The type specimens are thought to be held at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass & Ohio State University.
This skipper inhabits native prairies and flies in a single brood from late August into early September. Larvae feed on various prairie grasses including bluestem and gramma grasses. Windlass Hill at Ash Hollow State Historical Park is a great location to find this skipper as well as Hesperia colorado, another prairie specialist. Traveling eastward this skipper becomes much rarer as prairie habitats degrade/disappear.
Pardon my neglect in putting out new material. I’ve been learning some new mapping software to make new distribution maps for Nebraska’s 200+ species (the last ones for the state were put out in 2004/05). I’ve also been comparing notes with Steve Spomer to synchronize our data. So hopefully it will all be worth it. There is a new distribution map for this butterfly a little later in this post. Any comments/suggestions are welcome.
This butterfly (Lycaena rubidus – the Ruddy Copper) inhabits the western half of the United States but is largely absent from New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. Eastward it can be found into western portions of the Dakotas and Nebraska. In a lengthy review of the species in 1977 Johnson and Balogh described a new subspecies (Lycaena rubidus longi K. Johnson & Balogh, 1977) from Nebraska, again with the type locality being “the region north of Harrison” in Sioux county. A holotype (single type specimen) is housed at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity in Gainesville (University of Florida). This area north of Harrison is also the type locality for Pahaska Skippers (Jan 8 post) and Bernadetta Checkerspots (Feb 23 post). See the Jan 2 post for the type locality discussion.
There is one generation of Ruddy Coppers annually, generally lasting a couple of weeks with numbers peaking in mid June. As with all coppers, larvae feed on docks (Rumex species), with this butterfly showing a preference for winged dock aka wild begonia (Rumex venosus) which is widely distributed in western Nebraska.
This is another butterfly Richard Leussler (that man again – see Jan 8 post) named, this time as a subspecies. The name he originally gave the butterfly was Satyrodes canthus n. v. fumosus but the genus was later changed to Lethe and the species to eurydice. So the current name is Lethe eurydice fumosus (Leussler, 1916). The type locality is listed as “Sarpy County, south of Omaha, Nebraska”, probably near present day Fontenelle Forest.
This species is an inhabitant of wetlands, marshes and low lying riparian habitats. The Nebraska Natural Heritage Program has this butterfly listed as a Tier 1 species (see June 14 2020 post). It flies in a single generation each year from late June through mid July. Larvae feed on various sedges. Last year I found it in abundance along Victoria Creek below Victoria Springs State Recreation Area in Custer County (see June 28 2020 post) and again at marshy/riparian areas at the Niobrara Valley Preserve in Brown and Keya Paha Counties. Jon Nikkila found and photographed others at the North Loup River just north of Brewster in Blaine county (photo above) and Smith Falls State Park.
Click on the link below to see the actual type specimens. They are in amazing shape for being over 100 years old. Properly cared for pinned specimens (kept out of light to prevent fading, kept dry to prevent bacterial/fungal decomposition and fumigated to prevent dermestid beetles from eating them) can theoretically last forever. Or at least 100 years.
Staying on the theme of butterflies with type localities in Nebraska, back in 1920 Richard A Leussler (that man again – see Jan 8 post) described what he believed to be a new species of Checkerspot which he called Euphydryas bernadetta. In the years since the powers that be have decided that it is actually a subspecies of Anicia Checkerspot and relegated bernadetta to a subspecies. (Euphydryas anicia bernadetta Leussler, 1920) The Anicia Checkerspot is found in the western United States, with bernadetta being the eastern most subspecies, residing in Nebraska’s Pine Ridge and South Dakota’s Black Hills. Mr. Leussler described the subspecies from a series of specimens (syntypes) he collected in Monroe Canyon in Sioux County. These specimens are housed at the Ohio State University invertebrate collection.
This butterfly flies in a single spring flight, usually in May. It can be abundant. The Monroe Canyon type locality is now a Nebraska Game and Parks property (Gilbert-Baker State Wildlife Area).
Let’s revisit a theme from the Jan 2 post (butterflies with type localities in Nebraska). The Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene) currently has eight named subspecies spread across the northern half of the United States. Among these eight two are named from type localities in Nebraska. The first B. selene nebraskensis (W. Holland, 1928) was named from specimens from Dodge County, Nebraska. Mr. Holland described this subspecies from four males given him by E. A. Dodge. His justification for elevation to a new subspecies was that they were larger (by some 25%) than eastern specimens (subspecies myrina). A lectotype (type specimen designated later) is housed at the Canadian Museum of Natural History in Ottawa, Ontario.
The other subspecies with a Nebraska type locality is Boloria selene sabulocollis Kohler, 1977. Sabulocollis is Latin for “sand hills”. This subspecies was described from specimens found at Smith Lake, Sheridan County, Nebraska, in Nebraska’s sand hills region. Mr. Kohler believed this population deserved designation as a subspecies on the basis that the median black lunules of the ventral hindwing are “square shaped” rather than oblate and elongated. A holotype (actual type specimen) is housed at the American Museum of Natural History. in Manhattan, NY.
In Nebraska there can be considerable variation within a population at any given locality. As you can see the two subspecies are rather weakly differentiated (my opinion). Perhaps the differences are clearer to you. But that’s what taxonomists do.
Nebraska Game and Parks has both subspecies listed as tier 1 in the Nebraska Natural Heritage Program (see the June 14 2020 post). Last year I found this butterfly near Worms (July 6 post), at the Niobrara Valley Preserve (August 31 post) and at a wetland north of North Platte.
This butterfly inhabits marshes/wetlands and is triple brooded in Nebraska with spring, mid and late summer flights. In Nebraska it is largely restricted to the the Platte River valley and marshy areas to the north, often near riparian areas associated with the Niobrara, Dismal, Calamus, and Loup Rivers as well as sand hills marshes. One notable exception is a single specimen taken by Austin Joy from a moist dale at Cather Prairie south of Red Cloud (Webster County) on a UNK field trip. Had I not been there that would have been another record I would have had a hard time believing.
On 9/20/2005 Doug Long found another butterfly (skipper actually) in the state for the first time. This time is was a Hermit (Grais stigmaticus) which he found near Holbrook in Furnas County. While certainly not the most colorful “butterfly” in Nebraska (many people would have mistaken it for a moth) Doug alertly noticed the yellow coloration on the bottom of the head and thorax. The Hermit is a tropical species, occasionally straying into the United States. Doug’s Nebraska specimen is the northern-most in the continent (there are two records from Kansas, one from Oklahoma and a dozen or so from Texas). After Doug’s passing the specimen was donated to the Henry Doorly Zoo by his wife.
A quick note on separating butterflies, skippers and moths. While there are other differences a check of the antennae will quickly differentiate the three. Butterflies have “clubbed” antennae (a “club” at the terminus), skippers, while their antennae may be thickened at the end, lack a club and are “hooked” instead (see above). Moth antennae are neither of the above. Their antennae may take various shapes (including threadlike or hairy).
Back on May 2 1989 I was looking to get outside for a spring butterfly outing. Harlan County Reservoir was just an hour away so off I went. I parked in the lot at the south end of the dam and started checking the chokecherry, lilac and aromatic sumac flowers which were all in bloom. I found a nice variety of butterflies including Juniper Hairstreaks, Wild Indigo Duskywings, and Olympia Marblewings. Somewhere in the course of the afternoon I caught a small non-descript skipper. After returning home and pinning it up I was unable to identify it. After Dr. Ray Stanford of Denver (an expert on western species) passed on making an id I was really curious. I passed the specimen on to Steve Spomer at UNL who in turn circulated it to his circle of “experts”. It ended up being a female Cobweb Skipper (Hesperia metea) which had never been found in the state before. The Cobweb Skipper is primarily southeastern in distribution, flying in the spring. It’s larvae feed on bluestem grasses. There are several Kansas records but the Harlan County Nebraska record is the northwestern most in the continent. Over the past 30 years the Harlan County spring trip has become an annual event. Two other times I think I have spotted Cobweb Skippers but the the critter is so small and indistinctly marked I can never be sure. I’m unsure as to whether to specimen blew in or is a resident in the state. One of Steve’s experts related that this species is somewhat of a homebody, not straying far from its breeding habitat If a resident it’s early spring flight time would explain it’s paucity of records. It should be watched for on/near native prairies in the southeastern portions of the state in the spring. The skipper was donated to the UNL insects collection.
On June 24 1989 Jim Reiser and myself were out on Nebraska Highway 2 in Sheridan County (2 miles west of Ellsworth). We had found a colony of Ruddy Coppers (one of the more striking butterflies in the state) taking nectar from dogbane along the Burlington Northern railroad right of way. At some point Jim showed me an odd hairstreak he had captured. I did not recognize it either and my attention span moved on to other matters and I quickly forgot about it. So after Jim returned home he pinned up his hairstreak and, still not feeling good about making an id, ended up sending a pic to Dr. Ray Stanford for his opinion. Ray was amazed (as were we). It was a Leda Hairstreak which is a resident in the American southwest where it’s larvae feed on mesquite flowers. The next nearest record was in the Texas panhandle some 500+ miles away. And the butterfly (pictured) is in amazingly good shape. I would not expect another to ever be found in the state. I was there and I’m still not sure I believe it. Congratulations Jim!!
On July 18 1993 Doug Long found another butterfly never before recorded from Nebraska. In Holbrook (I assume in his yard) he found this Mimosa Sulphur (Pyrisitia nise). I likely would not have given it a second look and passed it off as a Little Yellow (P. lisa). As a small (more “delicate”) butterfly and a stray from its normal range in southern and southwestern United States it is extremely worn. While it was probably assisted by a tailwind it is still amazing how far insects can travel. There are about a dozen records of this butterfly from Kansas but only the Doug Long specimen from Nebraska. This specimen (and many others) was donated to the Henry Doorly Zoo by his family after his passing.
Every year I compile a Season Summary to submit to the Lepidopterists’ Society highlighting new county/state records for butterflies, new moth species for the state and anything other interesting finds. I’ll briefly summarize what I reported this year.
2020 turned out to be a pretty good year diversity wise. Roughly a dozen observers recorded 113 butterfly species from the state which I believe to be the highest recent one year total. In spite of that there were only seven county records. There were some good finds including the second record of M Hairstreak, from Fontenelle Forest (Joanne Langabee) a Satyrium caryaeovorum record (one of only a handful) from Steve Spomer, and a Speyeria callippe record (first since 1997?) from Dr. Brust in the Pine Ridge. Northern Pearly Eye’s were a little more common than usual. There were also notable absences including Papilio bairdii, Pontia sisymbrii and Chlosyne fulvia. There were a few southern strays recorded but nothing widespread or overly abundant.
County records included Sachem Skipper – Sioux County (Jonathan Nikkila), Hobomok Skipper – Lincoln County (Neil Dankert), Giant Swallowtail – Butler County (Jeri Glenn), Ruddy Copper – Garden County (Neil and Jennifer Dankert), Snout Butterfly – Franklin County (Neil and Jennifer Dankert), Northern Pearly Eye – Saunders County (Lori Tomes), and Queen – Garden County (Neil and Jennifer Dankert).
Three dedicated reporters added 28 new moth species to the state list bringing that total to 1347. Moth reporters are special people and deserve some recognition. I’ll try to highlight some of their finds in later posts.
For a list of butterflies found in the state (last year or from the beginning of time), or from any county contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d also be happy to send you the moth spreadsheet.