Great Basin Wood-nymph

This morning we woke to the first snow of the season in Northeastern California – rather late this year. The white landscape is beautiful, however, a butterfly might add a little warmth to a chilly day.

The common name for Cercyonis sthenele, Great Basin wood-nymph is probably a misnomer since this brown butterfly is found from southern British Columbia to Baja California and east to Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona. Not all of its range is in the Great Basin, although this specimen was photographed in the Great Basin (Dan Ryan Meadow at Ash Creek in Lassen County CA). The habitat of Great Basin wood-nymphs includes chaparral, oak, sagebrush and juniper woodlands and openings in pine forests.

Great Basin wood-nymphs vary in color and pattern with several recognized subspecies making it often difficult to recognize. Females have two eyespots (black with a white center and yellowish outer ring) of equal size and about equal distant from the outer edge of the wing. In males the lower eyespot is often smaller. The underside of the hind wing is heavily veined with an irregular line separating the outer from inner portions. The spots on the hind wings are variable depending on species.

Great Basin wood-nymphs caterpillars feed on grasses. Adults feed on flower nectar, especially composites  and Eriogonum. Females lay eggs singly on the host grasses. Once hatched, the caterpillars go into hibernation and do not feed until the following spring.

Thinking of these common summer visitors brings a bit of sunshine to a drab, grey day.


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