Henry’s Elfins in a New Spring Green

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.

2016 MAR 30 Henry's Elfin_pic Dennis Holmes_MD-Prince Georges Co

A Henry’s Elfin photographed by Dennis Holmes on 2016 March 30 at Piscataway Park in Prince Georges Co. [photo courtesy Dennis Holmes].

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.”

jeff_culler_25885063130_97187de1b9_c

Henry’s Elfin ssp viridissima — ‘Greenish Henry’s Elfin’ — taken May 31 at Ellis Bay WMA, Wicomico Co [photo courtesy Jeff Culler]

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.

This entry was posted in general butterfly news, Identification tips. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Henry’s Elfins in a New Spring Green

  1. Tim Reichard says:

    Most of the South Road colony at Patuxent North Tract is brown, but some there are green:
    4/19/2015: https://goo.gl/photos/YMJv7AXZZUUxCE85A

  2. Rick says:

    I think we’ll see this in most of the elfin populations where holly is the primary host plant, as it is as Patuxent North and as Harry notes more generally on the Eastern Shore and Western Shore of MD. Farther west, where the host is primarily redbud, I think it’s all brown morph henrici. The puzzle to me is whether these interbreed where they fly together, like Patuxent, and if so is viridissima a valid subspecies or simply a color morph? More photos, everyone, and description of the habitat!

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