Truro Massachusetts, 5-7-98, Elfin species

Chris Phillips chris at
Wed May 20 20:29:09 EDT 1998

Dear Friends,

Mark Walker encouraged me to post this on LEPS-L after I original
distributed it on our new Massachusetts leps exchange.  The text follows
with Latin names added, and some additional questions at the end:

Despite rain, cold, and a stiff ocean breeze we had an extraordinary
butterfly outing at Pamet, Truro Thursday, an excellent regional incisalia 
location.  Jackie Sones had cancelled  the program due to poor 
conditions after I had already left home.  So when myself and 
Allison Rob showed up at Welfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary 
she and a volunteer named Lisa took pity and offered to at least show us 
the Pamet locale.  I think she felt bad for me that I had come 4 hours.  
And she knew the Hoary Elfin (Incisalia polia) was a target species for my

The bearberry-pitch pine-scrub oak heathland looked lovely and atmospheric
in the fog and drizzle, and offered what we thought would be a wretched
prospect for finding butterflies.  But maybe the sun would break through...
 Or at least we would know the site for planning future expeditions...

Fairly early on the American Coppers (Lycaena phlaeas) started appearing,
and we ended up
with a count of 26.  Lots of dorsal basking, showing off their fresh bright
orange and gray!

Reddish-tan inchworm moths (of we think 2 sizes) were also abundant.  

The sun threatened to shine through a bit at the sandy area of the road
where Jackie normally finds the best array of Elfins.  Several Coppers and
1 very elderly Brown Elfin (i. augustinus) obliged us with flight.  The
Elfin was almost
entirely washed out; only the last few mm of the hindwing median band
looked familiar.

We traversed the rest of the trails with few butterflies.  We joked around
a bit about finding them resting beneath the bearberry or finding larvae. 
And we thought of the need for a companion volume on butterflies to
Skutch's "Where Birds Sleep."  Someone has to discover butterfly resting
spots for the first time, we consoled ourselves!  At one point we were down
on our knees lifting and peering, but the sheer extent of the bearberry was
too daunting.  We spent a good deal of the time sweeping and poking the
tops of the bearberry, and we zeroed in on many a highbush blueberry in

The only other Elfin in flight was an Eastern Pine Efin ( i. niphon) as we
the hilltop from the leeward side.  Allison had a good study of this, it
being her first.  We hoped for some hilltopping at the peak of the hill,
but a stiff, moist wind from the ocean was keeping everything down.

Then Jackie made a breakthrough at a small cedar.  There was a Brown Elfin
(i. augustinus) tucked deep in the needles, about 3 to 4 feet high,
oriented completely
flat and parallel to the ground, or maybe more to the point in line with
the direction of the wind.  There were no other cedars, but plenty of pitch
pine in a loose ring around the slopes.  Every few trees we would find 3 or
so Brown Elfins, all flat, all tucked in as deep as they could go clasping
the twigs or bud sprouts, with their forewings more or less covered by
their hindwings, reducing the surface area from which they would loose heat
in the breeze.  On one tree Lisa and Jackie found 7, I believe .  Two of
the the 20 Brown Elfins we found flew short distances and dissapeared into
the bearberry.  The rest stayed stock-still for VERY close observation.  So
did the 2 Hoary Elfins (i. polia)  which we found on one branch.  One
couldn't ask for
a better first meeting (except maybe for a little more forewing).

Jackie said that 1:10 is about the normal ratio of Hoaries:Browns when
they're flying here.  

We were pleased with the results of our search, and full of questions. 
Were the Elfins orienting upwards toward the diffuse sunlight?  Or were
they oriented away from the breeze to reduce heat loss?  What other 
perches might they be using, if any?  And how many others were resting 
around that hilltop?  Do pheramones play a role in the fact that they clump
in certain trees or groups of trees and not in many others?  Where were the

Eastern Pine Elfins resting?  Higher in the pitch pines?  And do other 
butterfliers already know how to find Elfins in the rain, or should we
writing "Where Do Elfins Rest, And Other Rainy Day Speculations?"

Chris Phillips         
Barre, MA 
chris at

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