By PATRICIA SIMPSON
With a wingspan of less than 1 inch, it’s easy to miss this small butterfly, first described in 1865 by its namesake Hans Hermann Behr, a German American doctor, entomologist and botanist.
The adult Behr’s metalmark (Apodemia virgulti) can be recognized by its black and brick-red patches dotted with white spots. The outer edges of the wings are lined with a row of small white dots. The top of the butterfly’s body is black while the bottom is grey. Striped black and white antennas connect to the head just above two beautiful green compound eyes.
The territory of the butterfly is limited from Central California (San Luis Obispo) to Northern Baja and from the Pacific coast to the western edges of the California deserts. Within this range, the Behr’s metalmark can be spotted from March to September, except in San Diego County, where we can enjoy the fluttering insect year-round.
The adult is a common sight at Mission Trails and can be seen foraging on an array of flowering plants such as in this observation posted in June on iNaturalist at bit.ly/2ppP1WZ. However, the Behr’s metalmark is listed as “vulnerable” by Nature Serve in the United States. This is because the caterpillar (larva stage) relies solely on the native California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) for food.
As a result, nature preserves such as Mission Trails have been vital for the survival of the species. Urban and other areas deeply disturbed by invasive vegetation are inhospitable for the butterfly. This is yet another good argument to plant a few native species in one’s yard. A couple of California buckwheat plants in your garden may just offer a new territory for the Behr’s metalmark.
— Patricia Simpson is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park.