Yesterday, friend and fellow-father-in-law, Rich, and I shared several hours in the heat of the afternoon on a sort of impromptu photo safari. Most of the time was spent trudging a fair ways along a path which led back to a trio of ponds. I hadn't visited the ponds in several years—and in the meantime, the Department of Natural Resources (the ponds are on public property owned by the state) had closed off a portion of the old access road…hence our resorting to shank's mare. Also, the dead-end gravel lane where I parked turned out not to be the closest trailhead point for heading to the ponds—though I'm not sure whether this was due to the state's revamping or my memory; let's just say we missed the shortcut.
The last half of the trail led through thick scrub woods interlaced with countless spiderwebs, their eight-legged creators ensconced demurely in the middle. Being members of the Micrathena clan, and seldom more than a quarter-inch long, they weren't big enough spiders to set off an arachnophobic tingle, though their sticky web strands, which stuck to your face and clothing, were annoying.
The initial portion of the path bordered an old field, designated as a training area for hunting dogs, and containing various wildlife-attractive plants. It was here, in the middle of the mown path, that I found the little male Eastern Tailed Blue butterfly, Cupido comytans, perched on a stem of dried grass.
With it's wings closed, I initially mistook the butterfly for a small hairstreak, a fairly easy mistake since—except for the diminutive size—the Eastern Tailed Blue looks remarkably similar to, say, a Gray Hairstreak. Yet whereas a typical Gray Hairstreak, wings outspread, will measure upwards of two inches across, the tiny Eastern Tailed Blue is lucky to reach half that size.
However, when the little butterfly opened its wings to bask in the hot sun…all thoughts of it being simply a small hairstreak vanished.
This spread-winged elf was a stunning blue, a sort of dusty indigo, the color of an almost-new pair of denim jeans after only a few washings—with an outer band of white outlining the wings, followed by a black inner band. Two reddish-orange spots, all but invisible unless you looked close, were located on the rear of the hind wings; trailings tails, in black-punctuated white, extended rearward beyond the innermost of the spots.
Eastern Tailed Blues are common hereabouts. The females, when open-winged, are less colorful than males—more of a dusty charcoal gray. The butterflies are usually found close to the ground, and like to feed on various clovers and low-growing members of the pea family. I saw several different clovers and some sort of wild pea with tiny pink blooms growing everywhere along the trail bordering the meadow—perfect habitat for the butterfly we photographed.
After dropping Rich off at his house, while heading north the twenty-some miles through the city and homeward—sweaty, tried, hungry—I thought about this lovely little blue butterfly…and easily decided the chance to see and photograph such a creature was well worth the trek and heat and spider-webs across the mouth.