Spring Azure Butterfly – Species Profile & Facts
The Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) looks like its name sounds – gorgeous. Despite its apparent color simplicity, this rather tiny butterfly comes with a ravishing look that doesn’t take anything away from its beauty.
The Spring Azure belongs to the Lycaenidae family, making it seem like the butterfly is related to lycans. This family consists of over 6,000 species, making it the second-largest on the Globe, following the Nymphalidae family.
But what’s so special about this species, and why is it worth mentioning it next to more popular species of its genre? Let’s have a look!
How to Recognize a Spring Azure Butterfly?
This species’ name is pretty much self-explanatory, as both the male and the female come in various shades of blue. The Spring Azure male will always display lighter colors, either very light blue or straight up grayish white. The female showcases dark blue nuances and a darker marginal band flanking the front and hindwings.
Whether it’s a male or a female, the butterfly is fluffy, generally with a white body covered by hairs. The same hairs are visible all over the wings’ surface, but especially around the margins. It also has big, shiny, and black eyes and 2 long antennae displaying a zebra-like pattern, only visible up-close.
The butterfly’s wings showcase light gray coloring on the ventral side, marked by random black spots.
What Does a Spring Azure Butterfly Caterpillar Looks Like?
The Spring Azure caterpillar will take on various forms, influenced primarily by the species, native habitat, and its developmental phase. However, all larvae retain similar outlining traits, like the segmented and almost disjointed body during the later growth phases and the green coloring.
The Celastrina ladon species, in particular, possesses a light green, diluted color with yellow nuances. Its body is compact and small and displays a color pattern allowing it to blend with one of its host plants, the dogwood.
How Big Does Spring Azure Butterfly Get?
The Spring Azure butterfly is a small species, growing no larger than 1.8 inches. Some species may go a little bigger than that, but rarely.
Where do Spring Azure Butterflies Live?
You can mostly encounter the Spring Azure in Northern America, mostly in gardens, openings, and woodland edges. Males also gather near swamps, bogs, and forested areas to feed, patrol their territory, wait for females, or perch.
On the other hand, females like to roam around their feeding zones and will often be spotted by males, triggering the mating season.
What do Spring Azure Butterflies Eat?
This species’ larvae have a rather atypical feeding behavior. The larvae will consume flower buds and fruits rather than leaves. Their preferred meals include flowering dogwood, viburnums, blueberries, white clover, wild pea, alfalfa, and vetch, among others. This is an unusual feeding pattern among butterfly grubs that consume their host plants’ leaves.
Even more unusual is that around 75% of Licanidae rely on ants as both bodyguards and food providers. Many species of Lycanidae secret specific compounds that appeal to ants and use vibration and low-pitched sounds to communicate with the tiny insects.
Ants protect the butterflies’ larvae, feed them via trophallaxis (regurgitated food), and even take them in their nest for protection and better care.
The larvae will pupate and undergo metamorphosis inside the ants’ nest.
As a treat, ants receive honeydew, a sugar-rich substance that sap-feeding larvae excrete through their anus. They’re exchanging these types of fluids, you see.
The adults’ diet differs, as females feed on nectar from milkweed, dogbane, privet, or blackberry, while males also prefer mud puddles. They may also taste juicy and ripe fruits for a change.
An interesting aspect is that the Springe Azure butterfly has a short proboscis, limiting their access to various plant species.
What Plants Attract Spring Azure Butterfly?
This butterfly species loves plants like dogwood, viburnum, privet, milkweed, or dogbane. Some of these are host plants, while others provide the butterfly with nectar.
How do Spring Azure Butterflies Reproduce?
This butterfly’s lifecycle is one of the shortest, if not the shortest, in the Lepidoptera family. The female will lay the eggs on the host plant soon after mating and will die soon after, living only slightly longer than males.
The Spring Azure butterfly will then undergo the 4 traditional metamorphotic phases that all Lepidoptera are known for:
The eggs are round, compact, and yellow, and females will lay several of them on the host plant’s leaves. Depending on the environmental condition, the eggs will hatch soon, giving birth to the hungry larvae, ready to feed.
The caterpillars grow fast and immediately begin to feed on the host plants’ flowers and fruits. The problem is that the Spring Azure larvae aren’t too active, to begin with, so they tend not to leave their birth area. This could create problems with finding new food. Fortunately, the caterpillar has developed an ingenuous feeding mechanism by collaborating with ants.
This semi-invasive relationship between ants and other organisms is called myrmecophily, which can be of 3 types: parasitic, predatory, or mutualistic, where both organisms benefit. The relationship between ants and the Spring Azure larva is mutualistic.
The caterpillar produces chemicals that appeal to ants, attracting and even subduing them. The ants will care for the larvae, providing it with food and sheltering it inside their nest. In exchange, the caterpillar will produce honeydew, feeding the ants.
In many cases, the larvae will pupate inside the ants’ nest, and the adult butterfly will exit soon after birth to inflate its wings and prepare for flight.
The Spring Azure pupa is smooth-looking, brownish in color, often with gray, black, or white blotches visible on the surface. They usually hang from the underside of leaves or branches or even lay tucked inside some ant nest.
The pupa will generally lay dormant throughout the cold season, as the Spring Azure butterfly is an overwintering species. The resulting adult has a very short lifespan, and it is the first butterfly to emerge in the spring.
The adult butterfly is a fast-maturing species that can mate and lay fertilized eggs pretty much immediately after birth. On average, the Spring Azure butterfly lives only a few days, 2-4 in most cases.
This is enough for the female to mate, find the ideal host plants, and lay the eggs before dying. The Spring Azure has one of the shortest lifespans of all butterflies, which is why most people don’t even have the chance to observe the butterflies in their natural habitat.
Where do Spring Azure Butterflies Lay Their Eggs?
The Spring Azure female lay its eggs on a variety of woody plants like dogwood, New Jersey Tea, or viburnum. These are ideal for the emerging larvae, providing them with on-site food and shelter immediately upon spawning.
Are Spring Azure Butterflies Rare?
They are not rare, they are just difficult to spot. They are quite common around woodlands and openings, especially early in the summer, but they only live for up to 5 days at most. This means you’re unlikely to spot one in its natural habitat if you’re not paying attention.
Is the Spring Azure Butterfly Endangered?
This species doesn’t rank as endangered, nor is it heading there. The butterfly actually thrives given its amazing adaptability to the cold season. Instead of migrating like the Monarch or simply dying when winter approaches, like most Lepidoptera, this species hibernates to overcome the winter season.
How Long do Spring Azure Butterflies Live?
The adult butterfly only lives around 2 to 5 days, unlike most Lepidopterans which can live as long as 2 weeks.
What is the Meaning of Spring Azure Butterfly?
Spring Azure is a name that combines the butterfly’s appearance with its life cycle pattern. Simply put, the butterfly is blue, and it emerges early in the spring. It was only fitting that these 2 notions came together to form the species’ name, especially since all Spring Azure species have the same life cycle and reproductive behavior.
Is the Spring Azure Butterfly Poisonous?
No, unlike other Lepidopterans, the Spring Azure is not poisonous, and it tastes good to predators. Caterpillars, especially, serve as food for a variety of predator birds, and it may take thousands of caterpillars to feed a family of growing birds.
Spring Azure caterpillars are small and tasty, which automatically qualifies them as prey for many animals. Since they have no significant defensive mechanisms, the caterpillars had to develop one over time to ensure their survival.
This comes in the form of myrmecophily, which I already mentioned previously. Most ants would enjoy a juicy caterpillar, but they tend to enjoy honeydew even more. This feeding preference leads ants to care for the Spring Azure caterpillar and protect it from other insects.
The adult butterfly simply relies on its fast and erratic flight pattern to avoid predators. It also helps that its wings display different dorsal and ventral coloring, alternating light or dark blue with light gray. This can confuse predators, as the butterfly’s wing flap, combined with its irregular and fast flight, reflects light differently, creating visual confusion.
This often allows the butterfly to escape the harm’s way.
The Spring Azure is a beautiful, tiny, and short-lived butterfly with an amazing life cycle. It is a common species so, if you want to see one, keep your eyes open in early March, when the butterfly’s pupation phase nears its end.