An Incomplete Guide to Small Blue Butterflies (Lycaenidae) of Southwestern China

My book with the above title will be available in six weeks on I have spent a year studying these wonderful creatures.

A Note on Lycaenidae

The family of Lycaenidae butterflies is an often overlooked family. They are smallest of all butterflies ( the smallest butterfly is the mocropsyche ariana of the lycaenid family about 6mm in size). They flutter among the grasses and hedges of gardens, parks and fields.  For this reason they are often ignored for the larger, highly colorful, and flashy families like “Swallowtails” and “Tigers.” Yet their beauty is exquisite when studied closely. It is no accident they are called “gossamer-winged” butterflies.

Lycaenidae are divided into several sub-families including coppers, hairstreaks, and harvesters. Because this is the second largest family of butterflies numbering over 6000 species I have confined myself to the “Blues” (polyommatinae).

There are several interesting anatomical features in this sub-family of “blues.” The male’s forelegs are reduced in size and lack claws.  Many species have a spot at the base of the tail. When they land some species turn 180 degrees to confuse potential predators and are able to look for approaching enemies aiming for their head on the other end.

 In the caterpillar stage they are flat rather than round.  They have glands on the 8th adominal segment that attract and communicate with ants by “humming” through hairs and the surfaces of the substrates they inhabit. About 75% of the species communicate with ants. Furthermore they produce sugary “honeydew” to ants through pore cupola organs on the 7th abdominal segpment. In return for the honeydew which the ants feast upon the caterpillars live inside the ant colony and feed upon “ant vomit” and ant eggs. Inside the ant colony the caterpillars pupate in the chrysalis stage. Adults emerge from the colony after 3-4 weeks and crawl out to expand their wings.

I have carefully recorded the location and dates of collection of the “blues” of Southwest China. Most of my identifications were made on the campus of Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences, the city of Yongchan, outer area of Chongqing proper and regions east of Chengdu in the Sichuan province. My survey was not intended to be a scientific  sampling  but merely an ad hoc study.


About daleinchina

Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences.
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