Rita Blue Larva

fred_heath at power-one.com fred_heath at power-one.com
Tue Sep 15 00:03:24 EDT 1998

        Over the weekend, I went up to the southern edge of the Antelope 
     Valley (southwestern edge of the Mojave Desert) searching for the my 
     first Rita Blue (Euphilotes rita) in California. I had tried several 
     times in the past to find this butterfly, but to no avail. But this 
     year, I had two things in my favor 1) Law of Elusive Species- Once you 
     get your first look (or first capture, for you collectors) of a 
     particular species, no matter how rare, you will see them everywhere 
     thereafter. And the previous weekend, I had seen my life Rita Blue in 
     Arizona. 2) We've had some good summer rains.
        I located some of the food plant, Flat-top Buckwheat (Eriogonum 
     plumatella), in a wash. Knowing that Euphilotes butterflies usually 
     stayed close to the host plant and did much of their nectaring there, 
     I set about searching for the butterfly. I quickly found a male, but 
     he never alighted long enough for me to get a soul satisfying look. 
     Finally I found a female which was more cooperative and watched her 
     deposit eggs right in the tiny white buckwheat flowers.
        I wondered if I might find Rita Blue larvae and examined a few 
     plants until I saw this stubby ivory colored caterpillar with a few 
     light dorsal and side marking. I thought how lucky could I get! 
     Wanting to take a picture, I tried to get the little fella to move a 
     bit so as to not be hidden under some dried flower petals. In moving, 
     it elongated a touch more than I would expect for a slug-like 
     lycaenidae caterpillar, but I was diverted when I noticed that the 
     petals were actually stuck to its back, making it more cryptic than 
        Checking every reference I had with me and then some when I 
     returned home, I could find no reference to blue caterpillars sticking 
     vegetation to their backs, and was excited by my discovery which I 
     thought might be quite unusual.
        The next day I was in San Pedro doing some volunteer restoration 
     work in the habitat of the endangered Palos Verdes (Silvery) Blue 
     (Glaucopsyche lygdamus paloverdesensis) and I was able to share my 
     observation with Rudi Mattoni, who had actually discovered and named 
     that subspecies of Rita Blue (E.r. elvira) after his aunt. When I said 
     I had found a Rita Blue caterpillar, he said, in typical Mattoni 
     style, "Maybe." When I told him about the flower petals he said, "Its 
     a moth larvae. There are several families of moths which do this." 
     When I started to argue that it was ivory-colored just like the Rita 
     Blue, I realized that any larva that needed to hide among the 
     ivory-colored flowers might just be this color also and then I 
     remembered further that this guy had been longer than I expected. Oh 
     well, another learning experience!

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