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by Valerie

January, 2018

Great Purple Hairstreak

The great purple hairstreak (Atlides halesus) is one of our most distinctive butterflies, with its classy black wings and outrageously colorful highlights. The most beautiful view of the wings is seen only in flight; the insect always perches with its wings closed above its body, hiding the iridescent blue of the upper sides. The common name is a conundrum as the butterfly has orange, red, blue and turquoise colors, but no purple. The bright hues, contrasting with black and white, are aposematic, meaning they are meant to deter predators by warning them of distasteful poison. The adult hairstreak acquires its toxic protection as a caterpillar which feeds exclusively on mistletoe, a plant with chemical defenses so intense that only a small number of insect species are capable of eating it.

Great purple hairstreaks usually occur in low numbers throughout the warm months. They often spend a lot of time walking inconspicuously on clusters of flowers as they sip nectar instead of fluttering a lot. The individual shown above is a male; females lack the blue coloration on the underside of the forewing.

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