Butterfly Bucket List: Hairstreak Butterflies

Gray Hairstreak Butterfly (Strymon melinus)
Gray Hairstreak Butterfly (Strymon melinus)

After spending way too much time trying to decide which butterfly to highlight for this month’s Butterfly Bucket List post, I finally settled on the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus). This little butterfly is common to the entire state of Texas and was particularly abundant in my garden this Spring. Well, I certainly thought I’d settled. Upon closer inspection of my photos I found that I actually had taken pictures of two separate butterflies — the Gray Hairstreak and the Soapberry Hairstreak (Phaeostrymon alcestis).

Soapberry Hairstreak Butterfly (Phaeostrymon alcestis)
Soapberry Hairstreak Butterfly (Phaeostrymon alcestis)

These butterflies are both members of the Lycaenidae family and Theclinae subfamily of butterflies. When they’re out and about in the garden, flitting from plant to plant, it’s just about impossible to tell them apart. To help highlight the differences between the two I’ve pictured them side by side in the photos below.

Noticeable Differences Apparent In These Images

  • The Gray Hairstreak has one long tail on each hindwing — the Soapberry Hairstreak has two long tails on each hindwing.
  • The orange color on the underside of the Gray Hairsteak is mostly centered on two spots on the edge of the hindwing, while on the Soapberry Hairstreak it continues for most of the entire edge of both wings.
  • The bands on the underside of the Soapberry Hairstreak are much more jagged than those of the Gray Hairstreak, forming what looks almost like a large M shape in one area.
  • The Soapberry Hairstreak has a long white dash further toward the middle of the undersides of both wings, while the Gray Hairstreak does not.
  • The Gray Hairstreak appears gray in color, as its name implies, while the Soapberry Hairstreak is more of a brownish-gray color.

I’m sure there are other differences, but these are the ones that stood out as I compared the two butterflies. Of course, depending on what part of the country they’re found in, there might be regional differences, as is the case with many butterfly species.

Gray Hairstreak Butterfly Facts

  • Gray Hairstreaks range in size from about 7/8 to 1-3/8 inches (2.2 to 3.5 cm). They’re small butterflies!
  • Adult butterflies feed on the nectar of many different flowers, including Blood Flower (Asclepias curassavica), Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Cow Vetch (Vicia cracca), Dogbane (Apocynum), Mint (Mentha), Queen Anne’s Lace (Ammi majus), Goldenrod (Solidago), Tick Trefoil (Desmodium) and White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba). The Gray Hairstreaks in the photos above are feeding on Butterfly Flower (Asclepias tuberosa) and winter onions.
  • Caterpillar hosts include plants such as Mallow (Malvaceae) and Buckwheat (Eriogonum), among others.

Soapberry Hairstreak Butterfly Facts

  • Soapberry Hairstreaks range in size from about 1 to 1-1/2 inches (2.5 to 3.8 cm).
  • Adult butterflies feed on the nectar of a variety of flowers, much the same as the Gray Hairstreak. The Soapberry Hairstreaks pictured above are feeding on Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria).
  • The caterpillar host is the Western Soapberry (Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii).

While the Gray Hairstreak is widely seen throughout the entire United States, the normal range of the Soapberry Hairstreak is from Arizona through Texas and northward into Oklahoma and Kansas.

Below is a view of the upperside of the Gray Hairstreak, which I was really lucky to get considering the constant movement of these butterflies. They never seem to sit still long enough to get a good shot of them! All of the photos in this post were taken during the latter part of May and early June of this year.

Gray Hairstreak Butterfly (Strymon melinus)
Gray Hairstreak Butterfly (Strymon melinus)

Thanks for visiting my Butterfly Bucket List post for the fourth Sunday of June. If you’d like to take part please do so! While the meme posting day is the 4th Sunday of each month, feel free to post your sightings any time within the following week. Just put a link to your post in the comment section of this post. I look forward to seeing the butterflies, moths and caterpillars that have paid visits to your garden during the past month!

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26 thoughts on “Butterfly Bucket List: Hairstreak Butterflies

  1. Great photos! Hairstreaks never do stay still. Your description is really clear, too. I can see the difference now. Isn’t that smoky grey colour pretty! Thanks for mentioning the host plants — that’s really helpful info.

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    • Thanks! It seemed that every time I got close to one, it fluttered a few feet away and I’d have to give chase. My husband at least found it amusing. Now every time I come back into the house with my camera he asks “Catch any butterflies?”

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  2. Well, this is just fascinating and I’m now wondering if I have mis-identified. Duh–like that’s never happened before!! What a wonderful idea to devote a day for butterfly musings–good for you! Your photos are beautiful and instructive. Thank you.

    I’d love to add your to the meme calendar? Okay?

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  3. I bet if I had the patience to go back (and I so do not) I’d see I’d confused the two hairstreaks at some point, that is if soapberries get west of Austin much. What a great side by side comparison, requiring some stellar photos to use as examples. These tiny butterflies are always dashing around – they seem to be drawn to a patch of oregano regularly here. And it is great to have host plant information with such clear identifying information all in one place. I’m a fan!

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  4. I agree with above-fantastic photos! What a soft butterfly. I love the muted tones + I was looking at that picture before I read the next section of your post and wondered- What is that? Neat captures

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  5. A most enjoyable, and interesting, post and wonderful pictures. It’s always good to see butterflies, which I’ve always felt have an almost magical presence. xx

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