Every spring tiny, delicate blue butterflies known as Spring Azures (Celastrina ladon) are one of the first butterflies one sees. Your impression of this butterfly depends on the angle from which you view it. From above, the wings are a bright, pale blue (females’ have a dark border). From beneath, the wings are very pale and lightly marked with brown speckling. Thus, at rest or mating (as pictured) with wings folded vertically, they are not as startling to the eye as when they are seen flying.
After spending the winter as pupa, encased within a chrysalis, the adult emerges, mates and the females lay eggs. The larva, or caterpillar, is slug-shaped, and is tended by ants which stimulate it to excrete a clear greenish “honeydew” which they consume. (It is thought that the ants discourage parasitism by wasps and flies.)
At one time all North American azures were considered to be one species but now they have been identified as several different, but very similar, species collectively referred to as the “Spring Azure complex.”
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When scouring the forest floor for spring ephemerals, don’t forget to look up – one of the most dramatic flowers of spring can be found on a woodland shrub called Hobblebush, Celastrina ladon. (The common name comes from the fact that its branches often bend to the ground and become rooted at the tips, making a walk through the wood somewhat treacherous…hence, one of its other common names, “Trip-toe.”) Hobblebush’s flowers are cleverly designed to attract pollinators — the large, showy, white flowers along the margins are actually sterile, their sole purpose being to lure insects, such as the tiny, blue Spring Azure butterfly. The smaller, less conspicuous flowers in the center of the cluster (just starting to open in this photograph) have reproductive parts and are the beneficiaries of visiting pollinators.