Rare butterfly spotted in Starr County [TheMonitor 2007-10-11]
[Photo] Courtesy of David and Jan Dauphin Telea hairstreak butterfly spotted Tuesday at Falcon State Park in Starr County. The butterfly had not been spotted in the United States in more than 70 years.
Jennifer L. Berghom
October 11, 2007 - 7:08PM
FALCON HEIGHTS ??? Berry Nall knew he saw something special while butterfly watching recently at Falcon State Park.
Taking pictures of the colorful winged insects at the park’s new butterfly garden, he noticed a tiny green one on a flower ??? a type he had never seen before.
“When I found it I had no idea what it was, so I took a picture of it,” the Falcon Heights resident said. “I tried to get as many pictures as I could, but it took off.”
He posted the picture of the fingernail-sized green butterfly on his Web site after his outing Monday and asked members of an online mailing list to help him identify it. He also searched for it in books cataloging butterfly species.
Nall received word back from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department that what he caught on camera was a telea hairstreak butterfly, which hasn’t been spotted in the United States in more than 70 years.
“I knew something was going on when I couldn’t find it (in any of the books),” he said.
Mike Quinn, an invertebrate biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife’s wildlife diversity program, said when he saw Nall’s picture he immediately started looking over his books to verify the insect was indeed a telea hairstreak.
“As soon as I saw the photo my jaw dropped. It was fresh as a daisy and crisp,” he said.
Quinn said the butterfly was first captured by Avery Freeman in Laredo in 1935. The specimen is at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
There are two other types of green hairstreak butterflies, the xami and the silver-banded, that can be spotted in the Rio Grande Valley and feed off the same plants as the telea hairstreak, Quinn said.
People can spot a telea hairstreak by the tiny filaments on the lower back sides of the wings and by the false antennae, also on the backs of the wings, that serve to dupe predators, he said.
Mission resident and avid butterfly watcher David Dauphin said he and his wife, Jan, saw the colorful insect at the state park on Tuesday and took pictures of it. On Thursday they found other types of hairstreaks at the park’s butterfly garden.
Dauphin, who has been tracking butterflies with his wife for more than a decade, said the telea hairstreaks could not have come at a better time. The annual butterfly festival in Mission is scheduled to start next week.
“It should help entice more people (to come and watch for butterflies),” he said.
Fran Bartle, Falcon State Park’s volunteer park naturalist, said others already have been coming to the park in search of the tiny insect.
“It’s created a stir,” she said.
Since the park opened its butterfly garden earlier this year, butterfly watchers have also spotted other species that had either never been seen in the Valley or had not been spotted in years, Bartle said.
“This is an oasis for (butterflies),” she said.
Part of the reason more types of butterflies are being spotted is that the effects of global warming are allowing them to travel farther north, explained Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the North American Butterfly Association.
But another, more likely reason is that more people who have knowledge about the insects are looking for them. In the case of the telea hairstreak butterflies, people could have overlooked them because they are so tiny, Glassberg said.
“Only recently have there been knowledgeable people looking for butterflies,” he said. “When you have nobody looking, you don’t see anything.”
Quinn and the butterfly watchers said they believe the butterflies hatched in the Valley rather than migrated here.
“There might already be an established community at Falcon State Park,” he said.
Jennifer L. Berghom covers education and general assignments at The Monitor.