A Short Tale of a Different Long-Tail

White-striped Longtail (Chioides albofasciatus)

Recently, I offered three views of a Long-tailed Skipper with a beautiful blue, furry body. At the time, I mentioned that I’d first seen a Long-tailed Skipper at Bastrop State park in October, and I’d wondered whether they frequented my area. When I posted the photos of my local skippers (Urbanus proteus), I’d assumed the answer was ‘yes.’ As it turns out, the answer was both ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

Looking again at my images from Bastrop, I found that the skipper I’d photographed at Bastrop State Park didn’t have the same patches on the underside of its wings. Instead, a long, silver-white band ran from the leading edge of its wing to the base of its tail. When I shared its image with Wally Jones, a Floridian and birder whose Our Natural Places blog is one of my favorites, he suggested that I’d found a White-Striped Longtail (Chioides albofasciatus). 

After comparing photos with those published on Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA), I had to agree. A common, widely distributed skipper, the White-striped Longtail has a limited range in the United States, but it’s regularly recorded in Texas, and can be quite common in late summer and fall.

The lesson? A long tail alone does not a long-tailed skipper make. As luck would have it, I discovered two long-tailed skipper species this fall: not one.

That ‘other’ Long-tailed Skipper ~ Urbanus proteus

Comments always are welcome.

50 thoughts on “A Short Tale of a Different Long-Tail

  1. You can certainly see where it gets the ‘white striped’ in its name from – and the detail in your photograph is fabulous. It’s good that the two species were around rather than just one.

    1. When I saw this skipper, the tail was the feature that remained in mind. When I found the local skippers with the same long tail, I wrongly assumed they were the same species. If I’d gone back and looked at this photo instead of trusting to memory, I would have sorted them more quickly. No matter: I saw the difference eventually, and Wally pointed me in the right direction.

      1. It’s interesting to see what the small differences are between them – I think butterflies can be quite difficult to tell apart. Here we have a butterfly count every year where you’re supposed to count up all the different butterflies you see over 15 minutes. But it can be really difficult if you just notice something dark flit past, without being able to see the markings properly!

        1. I remember the difficulty I had while learning to distinguish the Monarch, Viceroy, and Queen butterflies. And then there are the whites, and the sulphurs — not to mention the hairstreaks. Identifying flowers is hard enough, and they stay put.

  2. It can really be difficult to identify insects and birds. I have Skippers in my garden and was trying to get a good look at one after your first post, but it was skittish and I couldn’t get close. You are doing really well to get the photos.

    1. This White-striped Longtail was far more skittish than the ones I photographed locally. I chased it around and around the liatris it was feeding from, and most of my photos were nothing but blurs. Despite the intrusive flower in this image, at least I managed to include the proboscis, an eye, and the antennae, as well as the stripe and the tail. Sometimes ‘good enough’ is good enough!

  3. Thanks to eagle-eyed readers like Wally, we’re treated to the identity of another skipper! This one’s a beauty, Linda, and how cool is it to learn of your success in finding two of them.

    1. I’m glad I shared this one’s image with him. I’d been searching through the genus Urbanus, but didn’t find it there. I might have found it eventually, but when Wally suggested another scientific name as we were chit-chatting, the search was over. This one may not have that glorious blue body, but the silvery stripe is pretty darned cool.

    1. I did a search of your blog earlier to see if you’d posted photos of this one, but I didn’t find any entries. I’d searched by scientific name, though; when I searched just now using ‘white striped longtail’ I found the posts — all very enjoyable.

      1. The fact that you didn’t find my pictures when searching by scientific name puzzled me. I checked my posts and saw that I’d used Chioides catillus, which I’d gotten from the Tvetens’ book of Houston-area butterflies. I then looked online, and at the Butterflies and Moths of North America site I found that Chioides albofasciatus had been “raised to species level by Austin and Warren (2002); previously considered to be a subspecies of C. catillus (Cramer, 1779).”

        1. Well, that explains that. The taxonomists have been busy again. You’ve mentioned how a new name sometimes gets designated without showing up in the literature (online sites, books, etc.) for some time. Clearly, the same thing that happens with flora can happen with fauna. I’d just never thought about it.

            1. I don’t think there’s any doubt your three photos are the White-striped Longtail, despite the scientific name change. When I looked around various sites, there are plenty of sightings listed for Travis, Bastrop, and Bexar counties, so they’re around.

              It’s interesting that the one I found in Bastrop also was feeding on gayfeather, like one of yours, and it’s great that you found one that had its tail chomped off. A missing tail isn’t the worst damage I’ve seen among the butterflies, that’s for sure.

    1. I don’t know about that, but the smallest details often help us distinguish one plant or creature from another. There’s nothing wrong with a quick glance, but a second look (or a third) never is out of place.

  4. I wonder if that tail helps with flying or it’s a decoy like with the little blue tailed skinks. Predators go for the tail, which then comes off…Fabulous captures!

    1. That certainly would be my guess about the tail’s function. Swallowtail butterflies have them, and certain hairstreaks have funny little ‘eyes’ and ‘antennae’ on their rear ends designed to fool predators. Since the butterflies can continue to flitter and fly even when they’ve been nibbled, those tails probably aren’t absolutely necessary, however useful they are.

  5. The butterflies in swallow-tailed coats. I imagine if Chioides albofasciatus lit on a pine tree, that white streak would look just like a streak of “bird reminder” on the bark. (“Reminders” are those (*ahem*) byproducts of digestion left behind, especially by quadrupedal herbivores, to remind you that they are in the area and that you should therefore watch your step.)

    1. Now that’s an interesting take on the camouflage possibilities of the stripe. It makes sense, really. After all, when I moved into my new apartment, the first clue I had that a black-crowned night heron was living in the tree above my parking space was its ‘calling card.’ Now I’m thinking of another use for avian — excess: those bingo games involving chickens that are so popular at county fairs and such.

  6. Isn’t it great to have all these resources (including eagle-eyed readers) at our finger tips?! Both long tails are beautiful creatures and now the distinction is made, you’ll always instantly know which you’ve spotted.

    1. There has to be a name for a phenomenon that I’ve noticed with words as well as with birds, butterflies, and flowers. I hear a word that’s totally unfamiliar and suddenly it’s everywhere. Or, I finally come across a certain flower that I’ve searched for through years, and once I find it, it might as well be growing in my closet and bathtub; I see it everywhere. I suspect it will be the same with these skippers. When their season comes around again, I’ll be saying, “Oh, look at the [whichever] longtail!”

    1. This one made my day twice: once, when I found and photographed it, and again when I was able to establish its proper identity through the photo. It’s occurred to me recently that all these photos will help to make my days again in the future, when I’m no longer physically able to roam, and will have this record of wonderful days and discoveries. Of course I hope that’s far in the future, as many in your groups prove!

  7. Lovely! And an interesting name, too. I wonder why “urbanus” (“sophisticated” according to Google translator). And Proteus was a Greek sea-god, the Old Man of the Sea, who reported to Poseidon.

    1. With no evidence whatsoever, I’ve imagined that urbanus might point to that one’s common presence in gardens. Around here, many of the flowers planted in butterfly gardens aren’t native to Texas, but they are native in the Central and South American regions where the butterflies also are native; flowers like the Porterweed that these enjoy could be like a little ‘home-cooking’ for skippers on the move.

  8. These sorts of initial mis-identifications end up being great discoveries when we finally learn enough to realize we have more than we’d thought. I love that!

    1. Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that knowing what something ‘isn’t’ is as important as knowing what it is. Mis-identifications are just a step toward identification. Of course, there have been times when I’ve had to take a whole lot of steps long that path, but there’s always a lot of learning that results, so I don’t mind — even when I get frustrated.

  9. Skippers are tough to identify, but it is a fascinating road to follow. I’ve seen the white striped long tail in my garden, but not this past year. Nice shots, which isn’t’ easy to get with these flitty things.

    1. I found several Austin photos of the White-striped Longtail posted on sites like BAMONA, and I read somewhere that their flights do vary; some years they’re quite common in the late summer and fall, but not always. ‘Flitty’ sure is the right word. There’s nothing that demonstrates any insect’s consciousness more than trying to get a photo while chasing it around (and around) a flower.

    1. Sometimes we end up with unexpected treasure. I surely didn’t realize I’d photographed two species, but once I got things sorted, it was fun to compare them.

  10. One of the things I love best about your posts — and you — is that you not only have a wonderful eye for photography (beautiful framing, crystal clear images, a wonderful mix of detail and color) but an eye for detective work, too — for examining the intricate and minute details that tell one from another. Bravo!

    1. Since these critters aren’t given to wearing name tags, the research is a necessity! I think it’s fascinating that so many develop differences that are just slight enough to distinguish them from one another, as well as making it so hard for us to know what we’re looking at. Still, it’s great fun trying to sort them all out. Thanks for the good words; I really appreciate them coming from someone who spends a lot of time paying attention to color and detail!

  11. Nice find! I would love to see one of those. The tail does indeed look a bit different than the long-tailed skipper—will keep my eye out for them more this coming season!

    1. Most of the photos I’ve seen of these show them on various liatris species, Eryngo, and such. The Long-tailed Skipper seems especially fond of Porterweed, which explains why I’ve seen that plant in butterfly gardens at Armand Bayou, the Dudney Nature Center, and such. It was good to learn that some skippers can have long tails!

  12. Help comes from all directions and good on Wally (now I will check out his blog) for helping you “discover” a new species. It’s a beauty. I regularly see three skippers here in the yard and am always hoping I’ll start to witness a bit more diversity among them. So many yet only a couple on our flowers.

    1. I wouldn’t miss one of Wally’s posts. He’s a good humored guy, a crack photographer, and while it can be tempting to call him a birder, I think of him as a naturalist. He’s aware of far more than their wonderful Florida birds, and he’s so well-traveled that he knows plenty of non-Florida species, as well.

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