Gossamer-Winged Butterflies - Lycaenidae Family

The Lycaenidae Family consists of the Gossamer-winged butterflies, which refers to the sheer appearance of their wings. By definition gossamer means an extremely delicate variety of gauze.

These are very small butterflies with fluted wings that are often streaked with bright colors. When they fly we humans can see the sun reflecting from their wings.

This is the second largest in the families of butterflies. Included are the sub-families of Blues, Coppers, Hairstreaks and Harvesters.

The Western Pygmay Blue, a Gossamer-winged, is known to be the smallest butterfly measuring in at .62 inches (.25 cm). In contrast, the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing of the Swallowtail family is considered to be the largest butterfly at approximately 12 inches (30 cm).

There are about 6000 of Lycaenidae butterfly species around the world and many are very common. Patterns and colors of the wings often differ between the sexes.

The lycaenidae butterfly species larvae produce complex carbohydrate secretions, or Honeydew.  Honeydew attracts and subdues ants who, in turn, protect the butterfly larva from predators.

  • Some larva can transmit vibrations that are used to communicate with the ants. 
  • Depending on the Lycaenidae species, larva can become predatory and spend part of this stage in the ant nests, being fed by the ants then devouring them.

     More common species in the Lycaenidae family are:

  • Red Pierrot - More commonly found in south/south-east Asia.
  • Blues - More common in North America.
  • Coppers - More common in North America.
  • Hairstreak butterfly - Found mainly in tropical environments, North and South America.  Hairstreaks get their name from the 'hair-like' tails that extend from the hind wing.  There are some that are the exception like the Coral Hairstreak, who doesn't have this appendage.
  • Karner Blue butterfly - Considered an endangered butterfly.
  • Western Pygmy Blue - One of the worlds smallest butterflies being about the size of the human thumbnail.

Other Gossamer-winged butterflies include:

Green Hairstreak Butterfly

Green Hairstreak Butterfly  (Callophrys rubi)

Found in scattered areas of the west coast of the U.S., we are likely to see this one inch butterfly (28 mm) in Europe, North Africa, Russia and along Asia Minor.  

With brown color on the top-side of wings, the iridescent green bottom-side of wings are always up for camouflage purposes.  Males are territorial and after mating, females place one butterfly egg at a time. We will see butterfly very early spring March through May.

Photo: Torbjorn Swenelius

Common Blue Butterfly (Polyommatus icarus)

Common Blue

Seen throughout America, United Kingdom to Europe, those beautiful blue colors on the top-side of butterfly wings is the male while the female is brown. 

Both male and female have black spots while the female has orange spots along the underside margin.

Photo: Vasiliy Vishnevskiy

Silver Studded

Silver Studded Blue
(Plebejus argus)

Depending on lighting butterfly colors can be iridescent blue to greyish-brown.  The silvery metallic spots are located on the underside of wings along the margin along with other spots throughout.

Female butterflies have very little blue, if any, on top side and are primarily greyish-brown in color with orange spots on the underside. 

This butterfly is found worldwide with larger populations distributed unevenly throughout.

Photo: Florian Teodor Andronache

Coral Hairstreak Butterfly (Satyrium titus)

Coral Hairstreak

Having similar markings to the above Gossamer-winged butterflies, the Coral Hairstreak is primarily brown in color with more dominant orange spots running along their hindwing. 

Like the Green Hairstreak, the Coral butterfly is found always keeping its wings up.  Unlike the Green hairstreak, however, the Coral is seen flying mid to late summer until August.

Photo: Pimmimemon

White letter Hairstreak

White Letter Hairstreak
(Satyrium w-album)

This butterfly is known for colonizing and living high on top of Elm trees.  They are hard to spot and humans are likely to see fluttering dark spots. 

It's name, white letter, comes from the formation of the lines at the base of the lower wing - W.

Photo: Florian Teodor Andronache

Brown Hairstreak Butterfly

Brown Hairstreak Butterfly
(Thecla betulae)

Like the White Letter, this butterfly is found fluttering high atop the canopy of trees.  After mating it is usually the female that is seen fluttering low along wood edges and hedges to lay her butterfly eggs.  Once hatched, larva are active at night and motionless during the daytime.

When wings are open their top color is brown.  The females have a dramatic orange spot on the outside of their forwings while the male is all brown or having a small dull patch.

Photo: Torbjorn Swenelius

Brown argus

Brown argus
(Aricia agestis)

This butterfly will be seen flying in open areas from grasslands to coastal areas because larva feed near calcareous habitats (limestone/chalk).  It is found in the U.K., Scotland, Europe, North Africa, Middle East, temperate Asia to India.

When wings are open they are dark brown in color with orange spots running along lower edges of both the forewings and hindwings.  When wings are up, as picture shows, this butterfly can be mistaken for the female common blue butterfly.  The female common blue will display a silvery iridescence.

Photo: Romano Petesic

Gossamer-winged butterfly

Lycaenidae larvae not only produce Honeydew (see above) but adult butterflies also consume it in other forms. 

Many organisms and insects ingest tree sap then excrete it.  The sugar-rich sticky liquid is often found the trees where adults colonize. 

Photo: Sandyloxton

Copper Butterfly

Also from Lycaenidae family are Copper butterflies.  There are over 70 species of coppers in selected areas of the world. 

When feeding on nectar wings are up, helping identify Copper species better.  The top of female wings are primarily brown where the males are orange/copper.

Photo: Tomas Pavelka

Scarce Copper

Scarce Copper
(Lycaena virgaureae)

Scarce Copper butterflies can have brown markings on the top of their wings, others can be orange.

Extremely territorial males perch when seeking females and roost with other males at dusk atop dead flowerheads.

Photo: Dmitry Zhukov

Lesser Fiery Copper

Lesser Fiery Copper
(Lycaena thersamon)

This photo is a male with the fiery orange wings.  A female is orange with dark brown/black spots. similar to the above photo.

This butterfly is found throughout Europe, Asia and Western China.

Photo: Yuri Bershadsky

Lesser Fiery Copper

Another angle of the male Lesser Fiery Copper (Lycaena thersamon).

Photo: Viter8

Red Pierrot Butterfly

Red Pierrot Butterfly
(Talicada nyseus)

Primarily found in parts of Asia and India, this butterfly is up to 1-1/2 inch (3.5 cm) in size. 

It is a weak flier and because of this butterfly will stay close to the ground fluttering from plant to plant.

Photo: Lirtlon

Common Pierrot

Common Pierrot
(Castalius rosimon rosimon)

These can also be called the Common White Butterfly.  Butterflies are found in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and throughout to the Philippines.

These are fast flyers that circle-eight, or dodge, around from the ground to high atop tall bushes.  They are very common and can be seen in open edges of forests to gardens.

Host plants are from the Rhamnaceae, or Buckthorn family.  Familiar names include California Wild Lilac, Coffeeberry, Redberry to New Jersey Tea - all dicots.

Photo: Yongkiet

Related Articles:

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