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Publication #EENY-110

Great Purple Hairstreak; Great Blue Hairstreak, Atlides halesus (Cramer) (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae)1

Donald W. Hall and Jerry F. Butler2

Introduction

The great purple hairstreak, Atlides halesus (Cramer), is one of our most beautiful southern butterflies. Although it is most commonly known as the great purple hairstreak, it has no purple on it. The brilliant iridescent scales on the upper surface of the wings from which it gets its name are blue, not purple.

Distribution

The great purple hairstreak is found throughout the southern United States where its host plant is found. It extends farther north along the eastern coast to New York. In the West, its southern distribution extends into Mexico.

Description

The wingspread is 1¼–2 inches (31–51 mm) (Opler and Malikul 1992). The upper sides of the wings are iridescent blue with black borders. Each hind wing has two black tails (hairstreaks). The undersides of the wings are brown with a series of white and yellow spots on the margin of the hind wings at the bases of the tails. The undersides of the wings have three basal, bright red spots (one on the front and two on the hind wings). The underside of the abdomen is bright red.

Figure 1. 

Adult great purple hairstreak, Atlides halesus (Cramer).


Credit: Jerry F. Butler, University of Florida
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 2. 

Adult great purple hairstreak, Atlides halesus (Cramer); dorsal view (left), ventral view (right).


Credit: James Castner, University of Florida
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Mature larvae are green with a dense covering of short, fine, light orange hairs.

Figure 3. 

Larva of the great purple hairstreak, Atlides halesus (Cramer), on mistletoe.


Credit: Jerry F. Butler, University of Florida
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Pupae are dark brown mottled with black.

Life Cycle

There are many flights from March to November in the northern part of the range and year round in Florida and south Texas. Males perch on treetops during the afternoon to await the arrival of females for mating. As with the other hairstreak butterflies, perching adults move their hind wings up and down. The tails on the hind wings with their associated spots resemble a head. The movement of the tails is believed to attract a potential predator's attention to that part of the wings, which then is torn away allowing the butterfly to escape.

Larvae feed only on plants of the parasitic mistletoe genus Phoradendron (Viscaceae [=Loranthaceae]). When full-grown, larvae migrate from the mistletoe and pupate in crevices at the base of the tree, under bark, or may wander onto adjacent buildings for pupation. Frequently, pupae are parasitized by parasitoid wasp larvae or by tachinid fly larvae, and adult wasps or flies emerge from the pupal case instead of the butterfly.

Figure 4. 

Oak mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum (Raf.) Reveal & M.C. Johnst. (=serotinum [Raf.] M.C. Johnst.) in oak tree.


Credit: Donald W. Hall, University of Florida
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Selected References

Glassberg J, Minno MC, Calhoun JV. 2000. Butterflies Through Binoculars: A Field, Finding, and Gardening Guide to Butterflies in Florida. Oxford University Press. New York. 242 pp

Minno MC, Butler JF, Hall DW. 2005. Florida Butterfly Caterpillars and their Host Plants. University Press of Florida. Gainesville, Florida. 341 pp.

Opler PA, Krizek GO. 1984. Butterflies East of the Great Plains. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD.

Opler PA, Malikul V. 1998. Eastern Butterflies. Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Company. New York.

Scott JA. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA.

Wagner DL. 2005. Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. 512 pp.

Footnotes

1.

This document is EENY-110, one of a series of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date August 1993. Revised August 2010, August 2013, and August 2016. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu. This document is also available on the Featured Creatures website at http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/.

2.

Donald W. Hall, professor; and Jerry F. Butler, professor; Department of Entomology and Nematology, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.