Summer azure butterflies are all over Brooklyn’s flowers right now. The place is teeming with them. But they are small and often overlooked. Their wingspan is about an inch, so the one pictured above is just half an inch tall. They are white underneath and usually hold their wings closed over their backs. It is easy to mistake them for flower petals when they perch on blossoms. The upper surface of the wings is powdery blue.
Summer azures are in the butterfly family Lycaenidae, famously studied by Vladimir Nabokov and commonly called “blues.” Although I stood for an hour with my shutter poised, these little ones were too busy to linger with their wings open so I did not get a single shot of the blue surface.
Like many other members of their butterfly family, summer azures spend their catterpillarhood in the company of helpful ants. The ants protect them by driving off hostile insects. The caterpillars in return produce a sweet substance from a nectary organ (on their backs) that the ants eat. It’s rather like humans keeping cows for milk, except it’s ants and caterpillars.
Here is a poem I like that has a blue butterfly in it – Butterfly Laughter, by Katherine Mansfield
In the middle of our porridge plates there was a blue butterfly painted and each morning we tried who should reach the butterfly first. Then the Grandmother said: “Do not eat the poor butterfly.” That made us laugh. Always she said it and always it started us laughing. It seemed such a sweet little joke. I was certain that one fine morning the butterfly would fly out of our plates, laughing the teeniest laugh in the world, and perch on the Grandmother’s lap.