Berry's Butterfly Photos
Clytie Ministreaks make regular appearances in my south Texas yard, and under the right conditions the population explodes. During such times, in the late afternoon heat it is not uncommon to find dozens resting on the foliage of low-growing shrubs, or even in the grass. I suppose the plants provide humidity and/or cooling, although I've never read anything on the subject.
Despite the frequent abundance of this species, getting a life history study proved quite a challenge. I have never found a caterpillar. Years ago I confined adults with Mesquite, as I understood it to be a host, but I never obtained any eggs. During this study, I offered Screwbean Mesquite, Prosopis reptans. However, no eggs were deposited on, nor did the caterpillars show interest in, that plant. (It is unclear whether that was due to the conditions of the time, or to the general unacceptability of the plant as a host.) On top of this, I was misled by the otherwise excellent guide of Brock and Kaufman, as the male and female photos appear to be reversed. In my neophyte years, I may have put a good bit of effort into trying to get eggs from males!
A couple of years previous to this study, Mike Rickard shared a photograph of a female ovipositing on Huisache (Acacia farnesiana). This was the plant that was used for the present study. [Side note: In preparing this study, I found Pithecellobiums mentioned as a host plant. That genus might only suggest Guamachil, the Red-bordered Pixie host. However, the reference was printed at a time when Texas Ebony was also considered a Pithecellobium. It has since been moved to Chloroleucon. Still, Ebonies might be tested if a host is needed.]
Once I saw Mike's picture, I had a new potential host I was anxious to try - but we had a drought of Clyties. Finally, the butterflies returned in good numbers in the spring of 2016. I confined a female with Huisache. One evening I spent 20 minutes watching her repeatedly go through the motions of laying eggs, but I was disgusted to never see any eggs. However, the next day, when I took out the branches and inspected them, I was delighted to see her efforts had not been in vain. The eggs were simply too small and too close to the color of the branches for me to see them through the container walls. Most eggs were deposited on stems that were still green, but not tender; they were placed at nodes where there was some fresh growth.
The young caterpillars preferred tender and fresh leaves. I did not observe actual molts of the early instars, so I am basing the instars of the photo essay to the right on appearance and the assumption that the larvae experienced four instars as is typical of hairstreaks. I reared at least a dozen, and, as is my habit, I tried to photograph each adult upon release. However, I was only successful twice: I was able to induce most to momentarily rest quietly on a leaf or flower after I removed the holding vial, but before I could position the camera the fresh butterfly would fly off. Nothing came easy with this species!
The eggs were deposited on April 25, 2016. The caterpillars started emerging just 3 days later. Several pupated on May 12, and the first six adults emerged on May 21.
Caterpillars of Ceraunus Blue also use Huisache, and can be easily confused for Clytie Ministreak larvae. Both species are highly variable in color, occasionally adding yellow or red to the green base. If there is color along the back (dorsum), Clyties have two distinct rows, while Ceraunus have essentially one central stripe. Under a hand lens or in a good photo, it can be seen that Clytie setae are golden brown, while Ceraunus setae are buff. Also, the Blues tend to eat flowers, while the Ministreaks generally eat leaves.