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Gossamer Winged Butterfly

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Last updated date: 12th Jul 2024
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How Does Gossamer Winged Butterfly Look Like?

The Gossamer Wing family butterfly is known as the "gossamers" because some of the butterflies have wings that are so transparent and delicate that they resemble the soft, filmy, sheer fabric known as gossamer. Blues, coppers, hairstreaks, and harvesters are noteworthy among the 5,955 species of gossamer-winged butterflies in the Lycaenidae family. The family belongs to the Papilionoidea superfamily (series Papilioniformes), section Cossina, subsection Bombycina, division Ditrysia. Canada has 63 species of this butterfly, many of which are endangered.

The delicate and shimmering sheen of their wings gives them their common name. The thin-tailed hindwings of Hairstreaks are well-known. Many species' larvae eat on plants, with flowers and seeds being particularly popular. Others may have parasitic, predatory, carnivorous, or mutualistic relationships with ants.

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  • Kingdom: Animalia

  • Class: Insecta

  • Order: Lepidoptera

  • Family: Lycaenidae

  • Superfamily: Papilionoidea

  • Section: Cossina

  • Subsection: Bombycina

  • Division: Ditrysia

  • Scientific name: Lycaenidae

Habitat and Geographical Ranges

These butterflies can be found in a variety of terrestrial settings, frequently in close proximity to their food plants. Different parts of the United States, such as southern Maine, and different parts of Canada, such as British Columbia, northern Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island, are home to these butterflies.

Physical Features

This family's adults are usually under 5 cm long and have banded antennae. Their colouration ranges from bright colours to brown or copper tones, with a metallic sheen on occasion. On their hindwings, some have slender tails. Males' forelegs are often tiny and lack claws, but females' forelegs are fully formed. Slug-like larvae are coated in hair and have a slug-like morphology.

The popular names for this group of butterflies come from their wings. Some groups have gleaming blue wings, while others have copper-coloured wings. Hairstreaks are very thin tiny "tails" on the wings of some species. Many are grey or brown in hue, with black, white, or orange markings on their wings. Small butterflies with wingspans of 25 mm or less are the most common. Males in some species, like the Brushfoot family, have decreased front legs, but females always have all six legs for walking and standing.

Caterpillars in this family have small heads and legs, and their bodies are sometimes coated in fine hairs, giving them the appearance of slugs. The majority are green or brown, with a few yellowish or reddish ones thrown in for good measure. Some people, like slugs, can totally retract their heads.

Subfamilies of Gossamer Butterfly Family

Blues, coppers, hairstreaks, and harvesters are examples of butterflies in the Lycaenidae family. There are a few additional butterfly species in the family as well. 

  • Blues

Many species of blue butterflies can be found in North America and Eurasia. In North America, there are 32 species. Males are often blue, while females are typically brown with a hint of blue. The larvae of blue butterflies feed plants in the Leguminosae (legume) family. The adults drink flower nectar.

In most species, the larvae or pupae (chrysalis) hibernate over the winter, however, in two species, the eggs do too. Blue's flight is shaky and fluttery. Despite the poor flying, a number of Blues migrate. Blues sleep with their wings closed and bask with them open. Blue butterflies, like other Gossamer butterflies, rub their rear wings together. Male Blues scout for females throughout the mating season. In contrast to Hairstreaks, when mating pairs are disturbed, the male normally flies away while the female hangs on.

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Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is the primary feeding source for the Common Blue Butterfly. Black Medick (Medicago lupulina), Common Restharrow (Ononis repens), White Clover (Trifolium repens), and Lesser Trefoil (Trifolium dubium) are only a few of the others. They lay their eggs individually on the young stems of their feeding plants.

  • Coppers

Copper butterflies are found in about 50 species around the world, with 14 species found in North America, spanning from the middle United States to the Arctic. Adult butterflies are copper or orange in hue. However, they can be yellow, grey, blue, or brown on top and white underneath. In North America, the eggs frequently survive the winter. Adults stay put and do not migrate.

Buckwheat blooms (Eriogonum fasciculatum) are a favourite nectaring spot for Tailed Copper Butterflies. Adults frequently stop beside streams to drink water and other nutrients from wet sand or mud, a phenomenon known as mud puddling. Males perch on branches of manzanita that grow along open walkways and roadways, making them easy to catch.

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  • Hairstreaks

There are around 2,000 species in the world, with 1,000 in the tropics of the Americas and 75 in North America. On their hindwings, male Hairstreaks frequently exhibit hair-like tails. The butterflies' common name comes from their hair-like tails. The tails on these hindwings aren't as large or noticeable as the tails on swallowtails' hindwings. The larva feeds on a wide range of broad-leaved plants. Adults are quick, unpredictable fliers who rarely migrate since they don't fly far. Adults normally repose with their wings closed and bask with their wings closed and facing the sun sideways.

Mistletoe (Phoradendron) species provide food for the larvae (caterpillars). When fully grown, larvae migrate from the mistletoe and pupate in fissures near the tree's base, under bark, or on nearby buildings. When parasites such as parasitoid wasp larvae or tachinid fly larvae attack the larvae, adult wasps or flies emerge from the pupal case instead of the butterfly.

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  • Harvesters

There are 50 species worldwide, with one in the southeastern United States. Harvester is a frequent name for caterpillars that "harvest" insects to eat. Aphids, mealybugs, leafhoppers, and treehoppers are all eaten by these caterpillars. The Chrysalis, or pupae, is quite large, and from the top, it resembles a monkey's head.

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Types of Gossamer Winged Butterfly in this Family

  • Juniper Hairstreak

  • Colorado Hairstreak

  • Great Purple Hairstreak

  • Red-banded Hairstreak

  • Green Hairstreak

  • Purple Hairstreak

  • El Segundo Blue

  • Fender’s Blue

  • Common Blue

  • Mission Blue

  • Adonis Blue

  • Karner Blue

  • Silvery Blue

  • Holly Blue

  • Mazarine Blue

  • Gray Hairstreak

  • Eastern Tailed-Blue

  • Miami Blue

  • Small Blue

  • Summer Azure

  • Spring Azure

  • American Copper

  • Common Copper

  • Atala

Behaviour and Ecology

Butterflies (of the same or different species) can communicate with one another through colour, chemistry, sound, and physical actions. Colour patterns are utilised to communicate their sex or species. Both sexes of some butterflies employ chemical pheromones to entice the opposing sex or to convey species identity during courtship. To defend their territory, a few butterflies (males of the genus Hamadryas) create clicking sounds.

Clicking sounds are made by some chrysalides (Gossamer-wing butterflies) to attract ants, who then defend them. In courtship or to guard resources such as a beautiful flower, physical behaviours such as aggressive flight or postures are performed between the butterflies. Caterpillars of several species create sweet substances that ants use to protect themselves from predators.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Adult Gossamer butterflies have no resemblance to any other butterfly species. On their hindwings, many Gossamer butterflies feature eyespots and hairy tails that are usually on the opposite end of their genuine eyes and antennae. These butterflies do not migrate; instead, they reside, reproduce, and overwinter in the same location. Except for the Pygmy Blue, which does migrate.


Except for the Blues, the males of most of the Gossamer group perch and wait for females to fly by. The Blue males are usually on the lookout for ladies.

Stages of Lifecycle

1. Egg

The eggs of this family of butterflies are particularly attractive. On new growth or near where new growth is predicted in the spring, a single egg is laid on a plant.

2. Caterpillar

The larvae are sluggish and unobtrusive. These caterpillars lack the Swallowtails' waving osmeterium or the Brushfoots butterflies' spectacular appearance. Ants care for over half of the 5,000 Lycaenidae (Gossamer) species. This works out to 2,500 different species. Many larvae have some sort of relationship with ants. Many Gossamer caterpillars, particularly the Blues, attract the ants in a special manner. Many pupae make chirp-like squeaks, which are most likely used to communicate with ants.

The caterpillars are brought to the ants' nests, where they are cared for and protected from parasites and predators. The caterpillars, in turn, produce "honeydew," which the ants consume or pass on to the ant larva.

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3. Pupae and Chrysalis

They are small, spherical, and have a silken waistband. The chrysalis may even include a nectar organ, which makes it easier for ants to take care of it.

4. Adult

They are little butterflies, measuring less than 5cm in length, with vivid colour and a metallic sheen. The hues of the wings vary according to the subfamilies. This colour would be found on the upper surface of the blues' wings, with females having a darker shade than males. The coppers' bodies are brown or orange in colour and have dark patterns. Hairstreaks are brown or grey in hue, with colourful markings on the undersides of their wings, and two to three little tails on the hind wings.

Flight Style

The bodies of these butterflies are huge, but the wings are little. They are excellent flyers. They rarely fly more than a few feet before landing. This makes them more visible. Some animals fly faster or with more chaotic flying patterns than others. Except for some Hairstreaks, these Little Butterflies prefer to rest with their wings closed but bask with their wings open.

Gossamer Winged Butterflies’ Food Habits

Lycaenidae have a wide range of food preferences, and in addition to phytophagy, some are entomophagous (eating insects as food), feeding on aphids and ant larvae. Some of them are also fed by ants and are connected with them. Although not all Lycaenidae butterflies require ants, approximately 75% of species do. Ants attend and protect larvae while eating on the host plant in some species, and the ants obtain sugar-rich honeydew from them throughout the larval life.

This butterfly family's caterpillars eat a larger array of meals than other butterfly families. Some species only consume leaves, while others only eat flowers or fruit. Only one of the species is a hunter! In butterflies and moths, this is extremely rare. Females bury their eggs near their insect prey, and it feeds on woolly aphids. Although some adults drink nectar, many prefer tree sap or puddles.


Predators are rarely poisoned by these animals. Caterpillars may construct silk nests to hide in or rely on ants for protection. When they settle, some adults rub their hindwings together. This may cause predators to focus on their eyespots or hairstreaks on their wings, leading to confusion about where their head is.

Interesting facts of Gossamer Winged Butterflies

  • Lycaenidae is a family with about 4,750 species worldwide. Many members of this family have specific habitats and are rare, although some are widely spread and ubiquitous.

  • The word "gossamer" means "beautiful and delicate."

  • Because of their silky, delicate wings, these butterflies have been given this name.

  • Many caterpillar species form extraordinary connections with ants (myrmecophilia) that protect them from predators and parasites. Caterpillars feed the ants pleasant secretions produced by special glands in their abdomens in exchange.


To sum up, The butterflies in the Gossamer Wing family are known as "gossamers" because some of their wings are so thin and delicate that they resemble gossamer, a soft, filmy, translucent cloth. They're also known as "the little butterflies" because many of the butterflies in the family have wing spans of 7/8" to 2" (22 – 51 mm).

FAQs on Gossamer Winged Butterfly

1. What are Subfamilies of Gossamer Winged Butterfly?

Ans: The family of Gossamer Winged Butterfly is generally divided into the following subfamilies whilst there are several other subfamilies. Here they are: 1) blues (Polyommatinae), 2) coppers (Lycaeninae), 3) hairstreaks (Theclinae) and 4) harvesters (Miletinae).

2. What Do Gossamer Winged Butterflies Eat?

Ans: Lycaenids have a wide range of food preferences, and in addition to phytophagy, some are entomophagous (eating insects as food), feeding on aphids and ant larvae. Some of them are also fed by ants and are connected with them. Although not all Lycaenidae butterflies require ants, approximately 75% of species do. Ants attend and protect larvae while eating on the host plant in some species, and the ants obtain sugar-rich honeydew from them throughout the larval life.

3. Are the Common Blue Butterflies Rare?

Ans: The Large Blue has always been scarce in Britain and was declared extinct in 1979, but it has been successfully reintroduced from continental Europe as part of a long-term conservation initiative. The population of the Large Blue is falling over its entire range, and it is considered endangered internationally.

4. Where Does the Common Blue Butterfly Live?

Ans: The common blue butterfly is a little blue butterfly that flies from April to October throughout the summer. It may be found in various places of our neighbourhood, including heathland, woodland rides, grassy meadows, parks, large gardens, and waste ground.