(More or Less) Annual Azure Refresher

I usually try every spring to post some kind of nod to azure ID among the three most confusing of our early-season azures — Summer, Spring and Holly.  This year Harry LeGrand and Harry Pavulaan helped out with a post to the CarolinaLeps listserv.  While the phenology is tied to Carolina, the sequence and ID tips are useful throughout the mid-Atlantic.

Note also that the recognition that spring-form Summer Azure is the first azure of the spring (as opposed to Spring Azure) is a fairly recent development, and that many old or even standard guides and texts (and ideas, for those of us who got it into our heads in a previous epoch!) don’t have it right.

So far only Summer Azure has been reported on the wing locally (to the DC Metro area).

From: Legrand, Harry [mailto:harry.legrand@ncdenr.gov]
Sent: Sunday, March 13, 2011 8:36 PM
To: Carolinaleps
Subject: Azure ID — notes/comments from Harry Pavulaan


Now that “Spring Azures” are being reported – this includes “Atlantic Holly
Azures”, it is past time that I send you my copy-paste job of several long e-
mails that Harry Pavulaan – one of the East’s leading experts on azures —
sent to Salman Abdulali, Will Cook, Jeff Pippen, and me about a week ago.
Since we cannot use attachments, the material is included in the body of this
e-mail, below the horizontal line.

The important point to get from this is that MANY if not the MAJORITY of
azures seen in the Carolinas NOW (March) are actually first-brood Summer
Azures (Celastrina neglecta).  So, if you are in the mountains and Piedmont,
an azure now could be Spring Azure (C. ladon) or Summer Azure, though not
likely Atlantic Holly Azure (C. idella); azures in the Coastal Plain could be
Summer or Holly, but not likely Spring.

For example, using the notes below, Alex Netherton’s photo today of an azure
at Catawba Falls looks to me like a Summer Azure because of the whitish
underparts. Spring Azure is usually sooty gray below.  Check the websites of
Will Cook and Jeff Pippen; I think Harry P. has gone over these with them, and
made as sure as one can be (without collecting them later) of their correct
ID. I have checked all those photos of azures on the Butterflies of America
website, and these have NOT been thoroughly checked, and some are wrong. Don’t
go by these, at least the photos.


Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon):
Underside: has a very dark gray underside; darker gray [than Summer Azure or
Holly Azure] with a slight brown pigment component; markings being well-
developed and blackish brown.

Upperside:  Spring Azure has a haphazard, almost chaotic arrangement of clear
overlaying long scales (over top of the blue scales) so you don’t see neat
rows like in Holly Azure. The key to identifying Spring Azure is that the male
upperside, when viewed at a certain angle to sunlight, exhibits a “greasy” or
milky sheen, and does not have a metallic shine as do the other azures. Here
[in northern VA], Spring Azure females are very violet. The females can really
be violet, almost light purplish sometimes. When you get out onto the outer
[lower] Piedmont and inner coastal plain, Spring Azure tends to be more blue,
less violet.

Flight appearance: Every once in a while, I’ll see a duller-looking individual
in flight, with a noticeably more “violet” look (not blue).  That’s a Spring

Flight timing:  [not stated in Harry P’s posts, but starts in March in NC].

Atlantic Holly Azure (Celastrina idella)
Underside: very white beneath, and markings are reduced and somewhat blackish.

Upperside: the blue scales are lined up very neatly like rows of roof
shingles. Worn by late April. Holly Azure has whitish veins too [as does
Summer Azure] but considerably subdued.   It lacks the strong white veins
along the leading edge of the forewing that characterizes spring form [first
brood] Summer Azure.  What is noticeable is the EVEN distribution of white
“dusting” on the hindwing that is common in Holly Azure.  (I stress the “even”
because summer form [second and/or third broods] Summer Azure has strong white
scaling on the upperside HW but the white scales are arranged in rays between
the wing veins). Holly Azure females are dull blue, with hints of white

Summer Azure (Celastrina neglecta)

Underside:  Spring form Summer Azure is best described as sort of a very light
steel gray and the marks are well-developed and have a grayish black
component. Summer form Summer Azure is VERY white beneath. What I notice are
the strong dark marginal marks along the hindwing edge.  This is rarely seen
in Holly Azure.

Upperside: Summer Azure has very distinct whitish wing veins along the leading
edge of the upperside forewing.  Summer Azure females are generally bright,
reflective shiny blue.  David Wright made an interesting observation that,
when compared to our other azure species, the spring females of Summer Azure
actually have a slight green component to their blue color (thus being
“azure”) that is normally not noticed.  You have to place a Spring Azure
female and Summer Azure female side-by-side to really see this.

Flight appearance: Summer Azures are bright blue in flight [as compared with
Spring Azures].

Foodplants (all species)

Spring Azures are more likely associated with flowering dogwood (Cornus
florida) if you can find it.  Look for them before the flowers open – just as
the buds are breaking open.  Also look for black cherry (Prunus serotina) that
is budding.

American holly (Ilex opaca) unfortunately, attracts BOTH Holly Azure and
Summer Azure (spring brood).  We [Pavulaan and Wright] discovered this after
describing Holly Azure. Holly Azure uses Ilex opaca and inkberry (Ilex glabra)
exclusively in southern New Jersey, from where we described the butterfly, and
Summer Azure does not produce a spring flight, which is both interesting and
odd at the same time.  In subsequent years, I discovered a site in Maryland
where Spring, Summer, and Holly azures were ALL using Ilex opaca!  What was
odd, and also disturbing, was that Holly Azure had disappeared from that site,
apparently being replaced by Spring Azure and Summer Azure in the holly
forests on the western side of Chesapeake Bay.  Then I discovered that Summer
and Spring azures were using Ilex opaca all around the Chesapeake Bay.  So it
is possible that Summer Azure uses Ilex opaca down south too but apparently it
does not use Ilex glabra or yaupon (Ilex vomitoria).  I seriously doubt you’ll
find Spring Azure on Ilex opaca down there [in NC] but it is possible.

Flight timing (all species)

Your (in eastern NC) earliest azures are certainly Summer Azure (spring
brood).  These can emerge in mid-winter, while Spring Azure and Holly Azure do
not, except in March.  Holly Azure seems capable of emerging in early March,
thus being very difficult to distinguish from Summer Azure, which emerges in
March.  The rule would be: if there is holly (Ilex spp.), it could be either
Holly or Summer azures; if there is NO holly, then it cannot be Holly Azure.

Summer form Summer Azure normally emerges about mid-April in the coastal

Harry LeGrand, Vertebrate Zoologist
North Carolina Natural Heritage Program
NCDENR Office of Conservation, Planning, & Community Affairs

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

1 Response to (More or Less) Annual Azure Refresher

  1. Lisa says:

    Thank you for this!

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