Fw: Northern Spring Azure (Celastrina lucia) confirmed in Virginia

Ron Gatrelle gatrelle at tils-ttr.org
Sat Jun 2 00:45:34 EDT 2001

The following post was sent to several lep groups but not this one. I am
forwarding it as it is very important for several reasons.  I will add that
one of the many rare and odd butterflies I have found this May in Clay Co.
NC is an odd male Celastrina with very checkered margins that may well end
up proving to be the C. lucia below and extend this range even farther
south.  But this remains to be shown. Ron

----- Original Message -----
From: "Harry Pavulaan" <harrypav at hotmail.com>
Subject: Northern Spring Azure (Celastrina lucia) confirmed in Virginia

     On 5/5/01, while conducting Azure research under permit in Shenandoah
 National Park, near Big Meadow in Page County, I collected several Azures,
 including several typical Celastina ladon.  One of these specimens
perfectly matched individuals found much further north in Pennsylvania and
New Jersey.
   This was determined to be a state record Celastrina lucia (Northern
Spring Azure) for Virginia.  Specimen is a female, deep, dusky variety of
the "marginata" form (note: "marginata" is a form described from a Maine
 specimen of C. lucia and has also been applied by authors to a similar
 margined form of C. ladon).  The reason specimens are collected is to
obtain detailed or microscopic analysis of subtle features which are not so
readily apparent to someone who is simply watching butterflies.

     Celastrina ladon, the Spring Azure, possesses a unique male wing scale
 structure which can generally only be seen with the aid of a microscope or
 very strong pocket scope with a magnification greater than 40x).  Females
do not possess this structure and must be determined by overall general
 appearance which is not always reliable, but can be told from other Azures
 by their deep violet color.  Through breeding experiments, it has been
 proven that C. ladon is a single-brooded spring species that does not
 produce a summer form.  Artificially-bred summer individuals of C. ladon
 still contain the unique scale structure which is not present in the close
 relative, C. neglecta, the Summer Azure.

     Celastrina neglecta, the Summer Azure, differs from C. ladon by
several features, including wing scale structure, overall coloration,
hostplant choices, and life history.  Neglecta is a multivoltine species
emerging in May in the Washington D.C. region and producing multiple broods
throughout the summer.  It is also capable of producing a spring flight
which Dr. David Wright and I are studying.  This spring flight does not
consistently occur wherever the summer broods fly, and may fly with C.
ladon in some places or completely replaces C. ladon in others.  Thus,
observers have no clue which species they are actually seeing as the two
appear almost identical to each other.  Only examination of the uppersides
reveals the subtle but consistent differences in the males, and the
strikingly different females. Spring  brood neglecta females are brilliant
metallic blue compared to violet colored ladon females.

     Celastrina lucia (Northern Spring Azure) males do not possess the
unique wing scale structure of C. ladon.  Their scales are "typical" for
Azures. However, they can be told from other Azures in this region by their
overall appearance and their hostplant preferences.  Lucia is also a
single-brooded spring species.  Artificially-produced summer individuals
look very similar to the natural spring form and look nothing like the
related C. neglecta. These "false summer brood" individuals possess one key
feature: heavily checkered wing margins.

On 4/29/01, I captured a female Azure near the summit of Reddish Knob, on
 the Virginia side in Rockingham County.  This female, being worn, was
 undeterminable to species but picked my interest.  She was brought back to
 lay eggs in captivity to produce an artificial summer brood (Black Cherry,
 an almost universal Azure host, was chosen and she laid several eggs on
the unopened flower buds).  The caterpillars fed on the plant but were
still undeterminable as to species.  Today, 6/1/01, several of the
chrysalids emerged, producing several very distinct C. lucia adults, with
several displaying strongly-checkered wing margins and a tendency for the
underside markings to be enlarged in about half of the specimens.  This
confirms the earlier state record of lucia from Shenandoah National Park
and extends the range of lucia further south.

     This find is more important than most people realize, as there is
still debate over whether C. ladon and C. lucia are distinct species or
just subspecies of the same species.  Some "experts" feel that subspecies
can fly together.  However if this were the case, then they would
over time and any differences would be absorbed in the population and the
subspecies differences would essentially be erased.  Subspecies are
essentially geographic races and do not fly together, thus the presence of
phenotypically-differentiated lucia so far south into the mountains of
Virginia is proof that it is not a subspecies of ladon, but rather a
high-altitude species that flies along with the closely-related ladon
without interbreeding.  Were they to interbreed, lucia would not survive
in such small numbers on the mountain ridges.  This is a rather elementary
biological concept.

     This also confirms the importance and value of scientific method, even
 today.  After hundreds of thousands of years of existence, and two or
three hundred years of collecting in the Virginia mountains, this has only
just now been discovered!  With only simple observation, we would never
know this to be.  Knowing this information, we are now aware of the
of lucia on some of the higher mountain ridges of northern Virginia and can
take measures to protect the species including the avoidance of using
pesticides in these areas.

 Harry Pavulaan


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