Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Skipper on verbena flowers: a follow-up

with 25 comments

FLASH: This just in (as news announcers like to say). After the first comment about this morning’s post showing a skipper in the genus Nastra, I wondered (to myself) how I’d missed the fact that this butterfly had only one antenna. That prompted me to go back to the set of pictures I’d taken of the skipper, and it was clear from some of the other images that the butterfly had its normal complement of two antennae. That in turn led me to zoom in on the full version of the image I’d shown you, a detail of which I’ve added below.

It just so happens that the butterfly’s right antenna (the one we see on our left) was oriented in such a way that most of it pointed straight at the camera and therefore couldn’t be seen. If you look at this enlargement, you’ll see the part of the “missing” antenna closest to the butterfly’s head, and you’ll also see the knob at the tip, though it was far enough forward that it appears as an elongated brown blur. When looking at the picture as a whole, I’d taken that hazy patch to be a marking on the eye itself, and it was one of the things that reminded me of the fallen mustang grapes I photographed a short distance away on the same visit.

By the way, the link to the fallen grapes in the previous post wasn’t initially working but Wanda Hill alerted me (thanks) and I fixed the problem, so if you were frustrated by the non-working link, try it again now.

Nastra Skipper Butterfly on Verbena xutha Flowers 9768 Detail

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 6, 2014 at 11:00 AM

25 Responses

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  1. […] See the following post for more information about this butterfly’s […]

  2. I’d wondered about that as it has happened to me often enough but thought you would have been aware. Good for you that you pursued this and found that this little guy has not suffered the loss.

    Steve Gingold

    September 6, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    • You clearly have your photographer’s antenna up and are more attuned to this phenomenon than I am, Steve, and the skipper turns out to be an ouchless one after all, at least on that score.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2014 at 11:15 AM

      • Sometimes you just can’t avoid it. I’ve had wingless dragonflies and almost one antennaed leps. Usually there is something to tell you that you missed the antenna or wings, but this one really disappeared.

        Steve Gingold

        September 6, 2014 at 11:21 AM

        • The necessary information was all there in the original image, but when I’m processing a picture I don’t always zoom in to 100% (or more) magnification on my computer screen. In this case it also helped to have photographs from other angles as confirmation that the butterfly had the normal number of antennae. People talk about the stars being aligned in such and such a way, but here it was an antenna whose alignment created a strange effect.

          I’ve seen insects and other creatures that really were missing a body part, but this turned out not to be one of them.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 6, 2014 at 11:33 AM

  3. Good detective work. Bonus today. We learned about the details in the BBC article, too. Nice closeup work.

    Jim in IA

    September 6, 2014 at 11:09 AM

  4. I have a question: What are the horns on its head for? (looking between the antennae and the proboscis) I will be looking too, let’s see who finds it first! 😉


    September 6, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    • That question came up in the comments about a butterfly post from around the same time last year:


      I got some speculations but never anything definitive. I searched a bit online just now but didn’t find anything helpful.

      From my point of view as a photographer and blogger, one purpose of the horns is to arouse interest in viewers. Somehow I don’t think the butterflies care about that.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    • Found it! They are called labial palpi and used for detecting scent. The specifics on scent detection appear to up in the air for the time being, but the current information on them can be found here:

      (scroll down to “palpi”)

      Me thinks this was an unfair challenge as it required you to actually be at your computer when I made it. Ah, well. 😉

      About your photograph and the links to past posts. You always amaze me with your observations on the flora and fauna about us. You make us take a moment and observe what we might not notice otherwise. Thank you, Steve.


      September 6, 2014 at 11:51 AM

      • You’re most welcome, Lynda. In these posts I include some of the things I see and learn, but there’s so much I don’t understand, and inevitably there must be plenty of things I don’t even notice at all. That’s what tine is for, right? I spend a lot of my time looking and learning, or at least trying to.

        With regard to labial palpi (or palps), someone suggested that in an e-mail last year, but the picture of a butterfly’s head at


        shows the palpi emerging from much farther down on the head. The description above the picture confirms that the labial (think “lips”) palps are “at the base of the mouth parts,” so the “horns” in this picture seem to be something else.

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 6, 2014 at 12:12 PM

        • You are correct, they do begin below the probocis, but their orientation has them in an upward position. Your skipper’s palpi are very bushy and give the appearance of horns at the tips where they are not hairy. There are all sorts of palpi some large, some small, some which stick straight out in front, but in most of the photos I looked at they were standing up in a V shape and bald at the ends. Hence, the “horns”, which as it turns out are not horns at all.



          September 6, 2014 at 12:39 PM

          • Thanks, Lynda. I didn’t realize there could be so much hidden in all that furriness.

            Steve Schwartzman

            September 6, 2014 at 2:38 PM

            • Neither did I until I started reading about it. It was the suggested opinion that they “…may serve as eye protection” that really clued me in! (Although the jury is still out as to their actual purpose).

              Steve, this was fun. Thank you for indulging me.


              September 7, 2014 at 7:26 AM

  5. Good work on the antenna update, Steve. It still looks to me like there is a dent in the eye surface, though–do any of your other photos confirm or refute this?


    September 6, 2014 at 5:45 PM

  6. Amazing macro shot!


    September 6, 2014 at 6:50 PM

  7. What a great shot of a skipper~ they are not easy. And who knew all that was going on in all that furriness, as you put it? Great fun.


    September 6, 2014 at 10:44 PM

    • Being a furry creature myself, maybe I had an affinity for this little one. I managed to get 11 pictures of it before I got too close and it flew away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2014 at 10:50 PM

  8. Oh the joy of zooming in!


    September 7, 2014 at 12:26 AM

  9. Well, my gosh. One of the joys of coming in late on some of your posts is having all the prior research at hand. The colors and patterns on butterfly and moth wings tend to be given pride of place, just because they’re so pretty and everyone can appreciate them. But this skipper’s head, with its horns and fur and disappearing antenna and world-class proboscis is just something. If I only saw this photo, I think I’d get to “butterfly” eventually, but it would take a little looking to sort out all the unfamiliar visual cues. In this photo, the proboscis looks like an earthworm.


    September 7, 2014 at 10:27 AM

    • Yes, it makes so much more sense with all the added comments and the links in them. From years of looking through a macro lens, I know that there are many fascinating details beyond the ones we most often see; in this case, that would be the colors and patterns on butterflies’ wings that you mentioned. For example, I’d often seen the central line down the length of a butterfly’s proboscis, but one thing I learned from the peripheral articles this post led to is that that line is actually a seam joining what were originally separate halves of the proboscis. I’d never had any reason to suspect the proboscis doesn’t develop as a single organ. Having seen that line in so many butterfly closeups—and it’s visible here, though not prominent—I wouldn’t have been tempted to liken the proboscis to an earthworm; this is a case where knowledge blocks imagination.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 7, 2014 at 10:55 AM

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