Host and Guest
Every now and then I find some deceased butterflies or parts of butterflies. This is sad, but it does make them easier to identify and photograph!
This sadly deceased individual is a Hackberry Emperor, Asterocampa celtis. Its wing span is about 2 inches (5 cm) across, and it belongs to the nymphalid, or brush-footed butterfly, family. According to authors John and Gloria Tveten*, there may be three broods of caterpillars a year. The caterpillars are yellow-green with spiny “antlers” on their heads – I have never seen any but I will have to keep a look out.
Their host plants are hackberry species. The one we have is called Sugar Hackberry or Sugarberry, and right now it has tiny red berries that have just a thin sweet skin over a crunchy seed.
Hackberries are in the elm family, and one way you can tell is that the base of the leaf where it attaches to the stem is always uneven — one side dips down lower than the other. This tree is not one of my favorites – to me the leaves always look sick. They are droopy and yellowish-green, and they feel like sandpaper.
However I love the mottled look of the trunk and the sculptural bumps of bark that build up.
There is something satisfying to me about being able to match a butterfly to its host plant!
*Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas, 1996, University of Texas Press