One of the first butterflies to emergence each year in my neck of the woods (Middle Georgia) is the spring azure (Celastrina ladon). For the past couple of weeks these tiny butterflies have been patrolling the yard between my house and office.
The small (1-inch) butterfly has only one brood a year. As its name implies, its flight takes place in the spring. However, some years I have seen one as early as February.
From above, the butterfly appears to be powdery blue. One the other hand, the underside is light gray and sprinkled with black dots.
This butterfly is most common in the Georgia Mountains. However, it is less abundant in the Piedmont and rarer still in the Coastal Plain.
During its brief life (measured in days), females must locate a suitable host plant and lay its tiny green eggs. Chickasaw plum, coral honeysuckle and flowering dogwood are all spring azure caterpillar host plants.
It is interesting to note that during the time leading up time the females laying their eggs some observers have reported seeing spring azures circling around a host plant for long periods.
One of the most fascinating things about the life history of this butterfly is its caterpillars are often protected by ants. Apparently, the caterpillars secrete a substance that is attractive to ants. After the ants have eaten this odd food, they make no attempt to harm the caterpillars. Meanwhile, predators that find ants are so distasteful to some predators they will stay clear of the ants and caterpillars.
Who would have thought that ants would serve as bodyguards for the helpless caterpillars? Better yet, who would imagine that it could take place in your yard?
One final note, recent research suggests it is not as easy as it used to be to separate a spring azure from the similar summer azure. However, I will leave that story for another day.