Since until the weather warms up a little bit we’re going to be studying elfins more than looking for newly emerging summer butterflies, I thought I’d devote a little space to a seldom noticed (at least by me!) green color variant of Henry’s Elfin that Harry Pavulaan described as Incisalia henrici viridissima in the 1998 Maryland Entomologist.
I was mostly blissfully unaware of this critter, accustomed to seeing mostly the chocolate or reddish brown Henry’s Elfins that are our local subspecies (I. h. henrici), until a colleague from the West Coast, Dennis Holmes, shared some photos he had taken in late March in PG and Anne Arundel Counties. He asked if our local subspecies were henrici or viridissima, as the Butterflies of America site showed this area to be a zone of overlap.I rather too quickly noted back to him that I’d only seen nominate henrici around the metro DC counties, and that “Greenish Henry’s Elfin” was described based mostly on coastal Carolina material. All well and good.
Then I saw this stunning photo on Maryland Biodiversity Project, also taken the last week of March at Ellis Bay WMA in Wicomico Co. that Harry notes is “about as green as ssp. viridissima gets!” In fact, he notes, “The ‘Greenish Henry’s Elfin’ is also found in lesser percentage among more typical henrici in Cedarville State Forest and around Annapolis, no doubt in holly forests all the way down to Pt. Lookout.”So I need to start looking much more carefully at the Henry’s Elfins I’m seeing on the Eastern Shore and even on the MD Eastern Shore this season. And I’d be interested in hearing from field observers which of the two subspecies they’re seeing this spring in the holly swamps and woods.
LepLog readers might also find interesting a paper I uncovered sleuthing this out from the late Ron Gatrelle in the 1999 The Taxonomic Report, where he posits some interesting evolutionary relationships among the various Henry’s Elfin populations based on their host plant associations.
By the way, if you don’t already know Dennis Holmes’ incredible butterfly photography, check it out on his Flickr page.