Cloudywing butterfly

In the Garden: Cloudy with a Chance of Confusion

Dateline: August 29, 2014

Cloudywing (Thorybes sp.)

I met a new butterfly this week.  This particular butterfly is one of the skippers. Skippers are in the Superfamily Hesperioidea, as opposed to say, Swallowtails or Milkweed Butterflies that are in the Papilionoidea Superfamily encompassing Butterflies (excluding skippers).

Skippers are a diverse bunch and often hard to identify. This skipper was rather large, dull in color, but it intrigued me just the same.

Skippers can be somewhat trying to photograph.  You see they…umm…skip from flower to flower and it is often nearly impossible to keep up with them.  Luckily, this guy was drawn in by the nectar of Carolina Redroot (Lachnanthes caroliana) and seemed momentarily engrossed enough in his drinking habit that I was able to snap a couple of photos.

None of the angles revealed enough for a firm species identification

Unfortunately, I didn’t get great angles and it is imperative to have both the ventral and dorsal views of skippers to determine species.  One dot, dash or directional mark can be a determining factor in getting it down to the correct species.

Ocola Skipper Butterfly, a Grass Skipper (Subfamily Hesperiinae)

There are several subfamilies of skippers and because of the size, I knew it wasn’t one of the Grass Skippers (Subfamily Hesperiinae) as they are substantially smaller.

Long-tailed Skipper butterfly (Urbanus proteus)
Long-tailed Skipper butterfly (Urbanus proteus)

It had similar attributes to the Longtail Skippers that are Dicot Skippers (Subfamily Eudaminae).  Dicot Skippers eat

“Various dicots, mostly woody, with Fabaceae and Fabaceae perhaps the most important families used”.

There are also Spread-wing Skippers (Subfamily Pyrginae).

This Zarucco Duskywing
(Erynnis zarucco) is a spread-wing skipper (Subfamily: Pyrginae)

A quick check and I was able to determine it is one of the Cloudywings (Thorybes spp.). Comparing photos, I gave a preliminary identification as possible Confused Cloudwing (T. confusis).

It is some sort of Cloudywing, but not enough detail in photo  for species identification.

As I always do with skippers, I checked in with my twitter pal @AndyBugGuy.  Unfortunately, he reports there isn’t enough detail in the photos to provide a firm identification, but he did narrow it down to two possibilities: (1) the one I guessed or (2) Northern Cloudywing (T. pylades).  Now it is up to me to keep my eyes peeled to see if I can get better shots or at least a good look myself to firm up the identification by paying close attention to the subtle differences in markings.

I’ve plenty of various Desmodium spp. in my garden, which is a larval host for many members of Dicot Skippers.

Often the larval host will help in determining butterfly species. In this case, I’d be more confident with it being a Northern Cloudywing (T. pylades) since there are numerous Desmodium species that are listed in the HOSTS database and occur on my property.

On the other hand, the HOSTS database lists Lespedeza spp. (bush clover) as the only larval host for T. confusis and I don’t have any of that currently at my place, although I’m sure it is close-by in the neighborhood.

THEN I found the following notation at the Butterflies and Website regarding food choices for the Confused Cloudywing:

“Possibly bush clover (Lespedeza) in the pea family (Fabaceae). This species has been documented ovipositing on Tephrosia florida (Florida Hoarypea) in North Carolina.”

Heck, I’ve got T. florida growing in the back area, very close to the stand of Redroot that this guy was feasting on.  How’s that for documented confusion.

I’m keeping an eye out for caterpillars!

So, while the Cloudywing may or may not be a Confused, this blogger is “Confused” indeed.   I hope some additional flutterers will return for me to study further. However, if it gets down to having to dissect the genitalia, I’m out!  Identification to genus will be good enough for me.

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 29, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.



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