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New Mexico's state insect is the Sandia hairstreak butterfly. It was designated in 2004 and is one of many hairstreak species that are distributed across the United States and around the world. This article tells you what you need to know about this wonderful butterfly.
The Sandia Hairstreak Butterfly's Scientific Name
New Mexico's state insect belongs to a group of butterflies that can be found from chilly northern regions to steamy tropical zones. Northern species are generally fairly drab, but southern species are among the world's most breathtakingly beautiful insects. The scientific name for this group is the family Lycaenidae. It includes not just hairstreaks but also the blues and coppers. There are many kinds of butterflies in the group, and they all share some special characteristics.
The scientific name of the Colorado hairstreak is Callophrys mcfarlandi. That means the genus name is Callophrys and the species name is mcfarlandi. Scientific names are always in italics.
The Sandia Hairstreak, New Mexico's State Butterfly
This beautiful little butterfly was discovered in 1958, by a student who was out looking for butterflies in little-explored canyons in New Mexico. Most of the butterflies known in North America had been discovered and described long before that -- it's exciting and unusual for a new species like the Sandia hairstreak to be found for the first time. Noel McFarland, a student at the University of Kansas, found the new species. In honor of him, it now bears his name: Callophrys mcfarlandi.
The butterfly is orange-brown on the upperside, as are many similar hairstreaks in the genus Callophrys. The underside, however, is a bright jade-green, with markings along the edge of the wing. This is likely protective coloring that helps the butterfly "disappear" when it lands and folds its wings up behind its back. This camouflage may help it escape the notice of the asharp-eyed birds and lizards that feed on butterflies and other insects.
Hairstreak Butterfly "Tails"
Most hairstreak butterflies likely get their common name from the hair-like tails that extend from the hindwings. Researchers who study insects ("entomologists") believe that these tails are intended to look like antennae, which of course are part of the insect's head. If a hungry bird or lizard snaps at the fake "head," with its mimic antennae, the butterfly will only lose a bit of wing and can live to fly, mate, and reproduce.
More credence is given to this theory when you observe a hairstreak butterfly in the field. When the butterfly lands, it will often face downward or upside down, and rub its hindwings together to move the tails and draw attention to its hind end. Overall, it gives a pretty convincing display. It really does make you think that you're looking at the hairstreak's head, instead of its tail.
The Sandia hairstreak, however, is one hairstreak that does not have the fake-antennae "hairs" on the hindwing. Nonetheless, it still belongs with the hairstreaks thanks to many other shared characteristics.
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The Sandia Hairstreak's Life Cycle
Like most butterfly species, males seek out females for mating. Once mated, the female flies to find the right foodplant on which to lay her eggs. For the Sandia hiarstreak, this has to be Texas sacahuista (Nolina texana). This is the only plant the caterpillars are known to eat in the wild.
Once the slug-like caterpillar is done growing, it forms a pupa that is well-camouflaged on the host plant. After a period of development inside the shell of the pups. the adult butterflies hatch out and fly away to seek a mate and repeat the process.
"Complete metamorphosis" is the term used to describe the life cycle of insects that go through a four-stage sequence of forms. For butterflies, this means egg-larva-cocoon/chrysalis-adult. It helps to take the butterfly as the example, although dragonflies, bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and many other insects also go through complete metamorphosis. Like butterflies, they all have larvae and all of the other developmental stages.
The Sandia hairstreak butterfly is typical of the insects that undergo complete metamorphosis. The egg is laid on the food plant, and the caterpillar that hatches out eats the leaves of the plant. As it grows, it sheds its skin, also known as molting. The stages between molts are called instars, and after the last instar, the caterpillar sheds its skin one more time.
The last time the caterpillar sheds its skin, it enters the cocoon/chrysalis phase, known by scientists as "diapause." It's also called a "pupa." Inside the pupa, the insect's cells are rearranging. They actually break down into a kind of goop, and then reassemble to form the body and wings of the adult butterfly or moth.
The final "instar" occurs when the insect hatches out of the pupal skin. It is now ready to mate and continue the cycle. The adult feeds just enough to promote the goal of mating and laying eggs; other than that, it has no purpose on this planet.
Where Do You Find the Sandia Hairstreak?
New MExico's state butterfly is only found in yucca-agave desert, from southeast Colorado through New Mexicos, and into western Texas. It is not particularly common in most parts of its range, but a determined naturalist may come across a colony in the right place and time.
The following sources were used for this guide: