finding Megathymus

Ron Gatrelle gatrelle at
Mon Jun 4 13:49:45 EDT 2001

Harris's book on the Butterflies of Georgia (written in 1972) has some very
good field accounts of both the Yuccae and Cofaqui Giant skippers. The dawn
or dusk flight habits, tree landings, non nectaring, types of habitat etc.
Harry's observations below echo these accounts and information. This
information is being newly discovered by watchers, but collectors have been
aware of this for over 75 years and it is frequently documented in the
"butterfly books".  This is a case in point of how watchers have much to
gain by crossing the bridge of association and engage in communication with
collectors and read their books with the pictures of "dead" specimens in
them.  We don't need to be reinventing the wheel while species and habitat
are coming under more and more pressure due to habitat loss.

I was not real clear in my field trip proposal. My in-tent was not to find
adults but to find colonies still in-tents, their larval dwelling.
Megathymus are much much easier to find as immatures than as adults. My
purpose and goal is the same as Harry LeGrand's mentioned below - locate
populations not just selfishly collect/watch adults so collectors/watchers
can add to THEIR drawers/life lists.  If this sounds harsh it is meant too.
One thing that many many collectors and watchers have in common is that
they are "in this thing" way too much for their own selves and not for the
butterflies. IF THIS SHOE DOES NOT FIT DON'T WEAR IT. If it does fit -
mature and become a real lepidopterists, naturalists, observed,
contributor.  Ask not what butterflies and moths can do for you, ask what
you can do for them.  Plus - seeing a lep in the immature stage is still
check-off-able on the life list in my judgment.

The site east of Atlanta at Arabia Mountain has been well know for decades
and has been frequented by collectors for those many years - this site is a
case study of how collecting does little damage to the vast majority of
Lepidoptera colonies - especially when it is considered that the collectors
are gathering specimens most from immatures in the plants. Personally, I
would have expected this massive pressure on the population at this site to
have actually diminished or eradicated the population - but that is not the
case. I personally do not endorse mass digging up of Megathymus immatures
in small restricted areas. In the western US many of the areas are vast and
that is a different story. But back to subject....

Because the Arabia Mountain site is so well  known (it is a huge Granite
outcrop) - as well as the colony on the back side of Stone Mountain - the
impression of may collectors and watchers is that this is a species that
only or mainly occurs in this type of habitat.  Again, this is totally
false.  I have found cofaqui in every habitat I have found M. yuccce in:
beach areas, pine woods, granite outcrops, vacant lots in urban areas,
Turkey Oak sandhill, low wet coastal forest; coastal plain, Piedmont,
mountains; Florida, Georgia, South Carolina. I have never seen cofaqui on
the wing at any of the many sites I have found colonies.

The tents of M. yuccae are visible (can be found) year round in the center
of yuccae filamentosa, young or prostrate aloifolia,  and gloriosa plants.
These emerge as adults in spring. Cofaqui tents are totally concealed in
the same plants until just before pupation - when they make a tent from the
root in the dirt near the base of the plant. These tents are what I would
like to teach folks how to find. A few years ago Steve Hall and Harry
LeGrande asked me to meet them at a SC location they had found with a lot
of yuccae to show them how to do this. I did not find cofaqui tents (it was
also the wrong time of the year for active ones - we would have only found
"old nests"). It seems like I did find one yuccae there but I do not
totally recall.

A few years ago I did a taxonomic paper on M. yuccae and cofaqui (mostly
cofaqui).  I established that the type locality of cofaqui was indeed
Burke/Screven counties of Georgia where I had found topotypes in low wet
forest (Screven) and dry sandhill (Burke). (Also at granite outcrop in
Richmond Co. Ga.) I established that nominate cofaqui and "harrisi" were
the same subspecies. This left the central south Florida subspecies without
an available name. I therefore described M. cofaqui slotteni as the Florida
subspecies. The holotype of cofaqui, topotype of cofaqui, topotypes of
"harrisi", topotypes of yuccae, and type and  paratype of slotteni can be
found at the International Lepidoptera Survey (TILS) web site. in the photos section. As an expert on southeastern US
Megathymus, I am willing to lead a couple of field trips to help folks
learn how to find colonies - no adults are likely to be found.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Harry Legrand" <harry.legrand at>
To: "Ron Gatrelle" <gatrelle at>; <carolinaleps at>
Sent: Monday, June 04, 2001 8:42 AM
Subject: Re: finding Megathymus

> In NC, I have been quite successful finding M. yuccae (Yucca
> Giant-Skipper) flying around in mid-morning around stands of yucca
> (Yucca filamentosa). The flight in NC is from late March to very early
> May. I wandered over a tract of sandhills in Sampson Co. in April this
> year and saw about 10 yucca plants. After a few minutes, I managed to
> see 2-3 adult skippers flying around! I have probably had this type
> encounter about 10 times in NC. The adults are most active around 9-10
> am. They often bask in full sun for a while, then they (males mainly?)
> fly in an "arena" that tends to be a bit more open, near the yuccas.
> They don't often perch on the yuccas. They fly around in a horizontal
> flight, buzzing like bumblebees (though looking a bit like
> Silver-spotted Skippers in the air), about 1-2 feet off the ground, for
> several minutes at a time. At a site in the Sandhills Game Land, up to
> 10 take part in this flight, and 10-12 have been found at the Paint Hill
> section of Weymouth Woods preserve.
> Of course, I have been to a lot of yucca patches in April without seeing
> the adults, so one must expect frustration. But, on many occasions at
> that time of year, particularly in mid-morning, the adults are out and
> flying around the yuccas, in horitontal flights in openings in the
> woods. You might also see them basking on dirt roads or trail in
> mid-morning near the yucca. By late morning, the adults perch on tree
> trunks (I've seen them do this), and they may well stay up in the trees
> the rest of the day (as they do not flush up from the yucca plants).
> The M. cofaqui is VERY different. Derb Carter, Rick Cech, Emily Peyton,
> and I had to have help from Kilian Roever, a collector who formerly
> spent much time in the Carolinas but has lived in AZ for decades, to
> locate the species. He told us several spots, but we have not been able
> to find it in the Brushy Mts. of NC where he has found it. Instead, we
> saw them east of Atlanta, GA, where he mentioned to us. They seem to
> favor yucca around granitic outcrops. Their flight in the Carolinas is
> mid-July to mid-August, supposedly. We had ours in GA in late July and
> early August. But, the species did NOT fly in the morning! It flew only
> at dusk! About 30 minutes before sunset, the adults would start flying
> 1-2 feet across an arena at the edge of a flatrock, occasionally
> perching on the rock or twigs. This flight went on for about 30 minutes,
> until sunset. We went to the same spot the next morning, waited around
> before dawn, and stayed until 10 am. NOTHING! We also wandered through
> the yuccas, to try to flush any skippers. Nothing. (By the way, I have
> never flushed a M. yuccae that way either.)
> Thus, the best way to see adult M. cofaqui would be to hang around
> grantic flatrocks that have good stands of yucca in the adjacent woods.
> Be ready an hour before dark, then maybe have folks spread out to make
> sure large areas of the flatrock or other "arenas" can be checked. (This
> isn't necessarily easy in the half-light.)
> As Ron Gatrelle says, checking for the tents of the species during the
> daylight hours is a good way to know that the skippers are in the area.
> But, to see an adult (without rearing them), at least for Cofaqui, takes
> a lot of patience. I and others are still looking to see this one in NC,
> and I have failed on one dusk trip (and several morning trips) to the
> site in the Brushies. (I did see Yucca Giant-Skipper there one April!).
> You can bet I and others will try again in late July or early August to
> find cofaqui at that site or try new sites near the SC line. As a
> Zoologist for the NC Natural Heritage Program, I also want to confirm
> that the species is still present in NC.
> Harry LeGrand
> Ron Gatrelle wrote:
> >
 > Something I have been wanting to do is get a field trip together to show
 > folks how to find Giant Skippers - Megathymus yuccae and cofaqui. If
 > interested we could do this about the end of July. I have never seen a
 > cofaqui on the wing and only twice have I seen yuccae flying. I look for
 > the larval "tents".  The trip would be to learn to locate these tents
 > thus document colonies. It has taken me over twenty years to find just a
 > handful of populations.  There are a lot more out there and with a bunch
 > us looking it should turn them up.
 > We could do a couple of trips to help with distance for some folks. I
 > of no spot in NC as I have never looked for this there. But Harry
 > knows of a couple of places with a lot of yuccae plants - which is all I
 > need to know to find them. We'll see what the interest is what
develops -
 > so hang loose.
 > Ron


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