Posted by: Ross Gardner | May 29, 2020

Green Hairstreak

Callophrys rubi

A Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) angles itself to sun for maximum basking beneifit.

The Green Hairstreak is perhaps one of the understated little beauties among the British butterfly fauna.  They are unmistakeable.  No other of our butterflies are bright green in colour.  They may be small, but they are so very distinctive.

Although generally widespread and locally common in some parts of the UK, they have always been something of a  scarcity within my home county of Essex.  They are a spring butterfly of open, sunny habitats and it is a keen eye I keep open for that very hairsteak-like, flickering flight (a product, I think, of the sharply contrasting green underside and brown upperside of their wings) and smiling face that I greet them with as flutter low to the ground about gleaming yellow Bird’s-foot Trefoil (one of a number of larval foodplants).

The hairsteaks – so-named for the lined or dotted markings on the underside of the wings – are members of the Lycaenidae family of butterflies, along with the ‘coppers’ and the ‘blues’.  Many species of the latter are well-known for their interactions with ants, which may go to considerable and unlikely lengths to tend the caterpillars in return for a sweet secretion produced by the larvae using special glands.  This is a connection also shared with the Green Hairsteak, but it is as a chrysalis that they employ such tempting sweetness so as to afford themselves of the other insect’s protection.

And here is a lesson in one the greatest dichotomies of nature – its beauty and its brutality.  Green Hairstreak caterpillars are cannibalistic, almost throughout their development.  This is perhaps an idea that could be philosophically difficult to reconcile, that such unsavoury means (to our sensibilities) can help result in adult insects that we so readily associate with the beauty and light of the spring and summer months.  It clearly works for the butterflies, or else it would not have become a trait that has persisted and probably for sound evolutionary reasons, through producing strong and competitive adults to best distribute their genes to the next generation.

While some might regard such musings on the life cycle of the Green Hairstreak as open to debate, the simple beauty of these little butterflies cannot be denied.





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