For the past several weeks, one of the most common butterflies in my backyard has been the red-banded hairstreak. Although, I expect to see this butterfly later in the year, it appeared earlier than normal in my Middle Georgia backyard. I suspect this is due to the abnormally warm weather that has dominated our weather this winter.
Although, this tiny butterfly (wingspan: 0.75-1″) is one of the smallest butterflies I see in my yard, it is every bit as beautiful as much larger butterflies such as the common buckeye.
The red-banded hairstreak can be spotted in backyards across the entire state. It has several flights (generation) from as early as February, in the warmer regions of the state, through early November.
Like most of our butterflies, in between times when a flight is taking place, this tiny butterfly is sometimes hard to find. Then, suddenly you seem to see them everywhere. With that in mind, if you are not able to find one in your backyard right now, before long you should spot one.
The red-banded hairstreak is light gray in color. From above they are drab gray. Fortunately, most of the time we see them with their wings closed. As such, from below their wings are truly striking. The butterfly’s gray underwings are accented by a jagged, red band that highlighted on the side toward the trailing edge of the wing with a slender black and broader white line. Each underwing is equipped with two extremely thin, short tails. One or more of these fragile tail filaments are often missing in older individuals.
For some odd reason, adult red-banded hairstreaks often gather atop trees in the late afternoon and evening.
This butterfly differs from most others because it lays its eggs in the dead leaves beneath its host plants (staghorn, fragrant, and winged sumac and wax myrtle). Strangely, when the caterpillars hatch, they do not feed on the green leaves of its host plant, preferring instead to dine primarily on the decaying leaves found on the ground beneath the plant.