Butterfly Tracked A Long Way From Home

By Alyson Chapman
TO THE untrained eye, a butterfly is a butterfly. But this isn’t true of Tom Collins, Texas
Master Naturalist.

One butterfly, in particular, caught the eye of Collins while documenting species for a
fauna census at the Riverside Nature Center last month. He snapped several shots of the unique butterfly and later learned it was a Variegated Skipper—a butterfly that was far
from home.

The Variegated Skipper is found in Argentina, throughout Central America and Mexico. It’s unknown how the butterfly made its way to Kerrville, Collins said.

“Perhaps it hitched its way in a cargo truck carrying goods from the Valley,” he said. “It would be difficult to believe this small, weak flight butterfly could have flown all the way up here. But we will never know.”

With a wing span of 2.4 to 2.7 centimeters, the small brown butterfly is no larger than a
Cowpen Daisy flower head.

“It’s wings were somewhat worn, but that is not uncommon for any butterfly as that is how
they age,” he said. “It probably stayed in the area as there were flowers still in bloom and it
would need nectar to survive.”

Collins submitted his find to Butterflies and Moths of North America, which maps and
details species of butterflies. The Variegated Skipper was a new county record for Kerr
County, TX.

“Even in the Rio Grande Valley, the Variegated Skipper is considered a ‘tropical stray’ with just a handful of records,” Collins said. “This will be the farthest east record for this butterfly.”

Mike Quinn, an invertebrate biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife, and Terry Doyle of the Texas Lepidopterist Society identified the butterfly as a Variegated Skipper.

“All the rains that fell across Texas earlier this year is probably the main reason that we
are seeing a number of stray butterfly species in the Hill Country,” Quinn said. “The fall is
typically when most butterfly species stray north from Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley.
One of the most important yet unanswered questions concerning the Variegated Skipper
throughout its range is what plant or plants does its caterpillars feed on.”

But the Variegated Skipper was not the only record for Kerr County since October 2006
—in fact, it was one of three. A White Peacock was found in October 2006 and the most
recent was a Mimosa Yellow found on Nov. 29.

“The White Peacock and Mimosa Yellow each have been found in adjoining counties, while the Variegated Skipper has only been seen one time away from the Rio Grande Valley immediate area,” Collins said. None of these would be documented if Collins and several volunteers didn’t start the census at the nature center.

“First was to document all the animal species—birds, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, mammals—that can be found in an urban nature center,” he said. “By studying and documenting what species use the nature center, the staff and volunteers can better educate the visitors about the value of preserving natural areas such as this site.”To date, volunteers helping in the weekly census have documented 98 bird species and 65 butterfly species. –Daily Times