What the Heck is a Hairstreak?

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Butterfly!

What the heck is a Hairstreak? Ok, ok, I know it is a butterfly and a fairly common one to be sure but where did it get its rather curious and comical name?

The Hairstreak... an unassuming Superhero?

The Hairstreak... an unassuming Superhero?

Is the Hairstreak just another unassuming Superhero who is to inspire the names of scads of amusement park coasters?

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Hmmm… I don’t think so, but I do believe that Hairstreaks somewhat fit the Superhero bill. They are, after all, courageous and dashing creatures who fly about in uniquely patterned suits.

This brave and daring Hairstreak goes eye to eye with a Tarantula Hawk.

This brave and daring Hairstreak goes eye to eye with a Tarantula Hawk.

The dictionary defines the word Hairstreak as being small butterflies of the family Lycaenidae (Subfamily Theclinae) which usually have striped markings on the underside of their wings and thin filamentous projections from the hind wings.

California Native Mallow, one of the Hairstreak's many host plants.

California Native Mallow, one of the Hairstreak's many host plants.

Jeff Glassberg, author of Butterflies Through Binoculars, has this to say about origins of the word Hairstreak.  “The name of these small but intricately patterned butterflies is thought to be derived either from the many lines or streaks that tend to appear on the hind wing or from the usual presence of fine, hair-like tails.”

This Sylvan Hairstreak survived an attack but lost it's two tails.

This Sylvan Hairstreak survived an attack. Heads predator wins, tails he loses!

Having observed these dazzling creatures in action, I can personally attest to accuracy of the above descriptions. Hairstreaks often have brightly streaked markings. They also flaunt false antennae or hairlike tails which are meant to confuse predators as to which side is their actual head is on.

A hairy Hairstreak rests on Buckwheat.

A hairy Hairstreak rests on California Buckwheat.

In truth though, I have to wonder if anybody really knows for sure where the name Hairstreak originated from. Inarguably, Hairstreaks are hairy little daredevils who streak by in flashes of color. Telltale markings and counterfeit antennae aside, I myself, admittedly incurably romantic, will always prefer to think of them as mild mannered Superheros. -K. D’Angelo

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One Response to What the Heck is a Hairstreak?
  1. Larry
    October 27, 2009 | 2:04 pm

    Great photography and creative text.

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