Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Skipper on verbena flowers

with 42 comments

Skipper Butterfly on Verbena xutha Flowers 9768

Click for better clarity.

When I visited Northeast Metro Park in Pflugerville on July 28th I stopped to photograph some flowers of what I believe is gulf vervain, Verbena xutha, a species making its debut here. Before long I noticed that a skipper had landed on some of the flowers and I turned my attention to it. Based on my research I can say it appears to be in the genus Nastra, but I’m having trouble distinguishing between N. neamathla, the neamathla skipper, and N. lherminier, the swarthy skipper. Whichever it is, in this portrait I focused on the skipper’s head, legs, and proboscis rather than its wings, and by doing so I managed to keep the flowers at the right mostly in focus as well.

It may be my strange imagination, but the butterfly’s eye looks to me like it could be one of the fallen mustang grapes I photographed a short distance away on the same visit.

UPDATE: See the following post for more information about this butterfly’s antennae.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 6, 2014 at 5:50 AM

42 Responses

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  1. That is the rare Skippius unicornus. One antenna is missing.

    Jim in IA

    September 6, 2014 at 7:12 AM

    • That’s a good observation, and it sent me on a search. The article I found at


      gives evidence to show that butterflies’ antennae “contain both a light sensor and a clock.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2014 at 7:30 AM

      • Interesting study. I have one more question not addressed in the BBC piece. Does one antenna suffice? Or, is there a kind of stereo effect that aids navigation?

        Jim in IA

        September 6, 2014 at 7:37 AM

        • We’re thinking alike here: it was the effect of having just one antenna that I searched for, but I didn’t find anything definitive in the short amount of time I spent looking at the hits I got. Like you (and maybe because of my bias from years of having done stereo photography), I’d assume that there’s a stereo effect and a benefit from possessing two antennae.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 6, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    • By the way, yesterday I took some pictures of a cactus in a part of far north Austin called McNeil:


      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2014 at 7:40 AM

      • I passed that info along to someone with that last name in this house.

        Returned a smile and a nod of approval.

        Jim in IA

        September 6, 2014 at 8:19 AM

  2. A beautiful verbena. It appears to me that the skipper’s eye is trying to focus on you.


    September 6, 2014 at 8:53 AM

  3. Losing an antenna has got to hurt. Ouch. That is some serious proboscis on this skipper. I don’t know enough about them to say whether it is unusual for the proboscis to be longer than the body or not…maybe besides Verbena it specializes on some very deep tubular flowers.

    Steve Gingold

    September 6, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    • I assume it would hurt, but as we’ve already learned in the follow-up, fortunately for the butterfly that didn’t happen here.

      Yes, the proboscis struck me as unusually long too, and I can see where that length would help get nectar from tubular flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2014 at 11:21 AM

  4. […] 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. […]

  5. Fascinating little creature, love the antenna and here I learned that it has a light sensor and a clock which makes it even more interesting for someone like myself not familiar with such topics! As usual I enjoy the informative and educational aspect of your posts!


    September 6, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    • I enjoy doing the research, Eva. As I keep saying, live and learn. And as I also keep saying: once a teacher, always a teacher.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2014 at 11:24 AM

  6. I have a real soft spot for skippers 🙂 Such endearing little faces!

  7. Nice shot. Your ability to keep the subject’s face as well as the flowers in the same plane make this image what it is. Now … as a zoologist with a thing for mechanics … what I’d like to know is how those little guys control the lengthy proboscis. I would doubt that it’s entirely muscular. Perhaps it’s controlled hydrostatically (and relies on pressures generated by static fluid), or hydraulically (working off of pressures created by moving fluids)? Or perhaps some combination. I wonder if many folks have studied this? D

    Pairodox Farm

    September 6, 2014 at 2:08 PM

    • From a web page: http://lepidopterabutterfly.weebly.com/feeding-structures.html

      Internal features
      The function and operation of the proboscis is a complex feature of butterflies. The uncoiling of a butterfly’s proboscis is caused by hemolymph (insect version of blood) being pumped into the galeae. Coiling of the proboscis is controlled by the galeae muscles, which are a part of the proboscis’ structure (Krenn 1990). A sucking pump in the head allows butterflies to take up fluid in the proboscis’ food pump (Krenn 2010). This sucking pump is located between the proboscis and the esophagus and has many associated head muscles (Krenn 2010) which assist in its function. The contraction of muscles controls the transport of fluid (Krenn 2010) by the proboscis. The frontal ganglion controls the sucking pump muscles (Krenn 2010). These muscles are triggered by the presence of sucrose sensed by the proboscis (Krenn 2010) and taste receptors on the tarsi (Inoue et al. 2008).

      Steve Gingold

      September 6, 2014 at 2:23 PM

      • Looks like we were digging up articles at the same time. Long live the Internet!

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 6, 2014 at 2:29 PM

      • Ahh … good for you … the key phrases are “uncoiling … is caused by hemolymph,” so movements are partially hydraulic, and “coiling is controlled by … muscles,” and also partially driven by muscle contractions. So now we all know! Thanks Steve. D

        Pairodox Farm

        September 6, 2014 at 3:39 PM

    • I also wondered about how a butterfly controls its proboscis, and your comment prompted me to do a search. I found an article geared for the general public


      and a more-technical one that should suit you as a zoologist


      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2014 at 2:27 PM

      • Ain’t the internet a wonder? The ‘other’ Steve also found some nice information which indicated that uncoiling and coiling are controlled (respectively) hydraulically and by muscle contraction. There’s always (or most times, in any case) a good explanation if you’ve got the time to look for it. Now I can rest in my understanding of these mechanisms … peace at last. D

        Pairodox Farm

        September 6, 2014 at 3:42 PM

        • Now if The Two Steves could just rake in as much moolah with their photographs as The Three Tenors did with their singing….

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 6, 2014 at 4:00 PM

  8. Skippers are really amazing butterflies, and if I’m not mistaken, they are the fastest-flying. And I believe you’re quite right about its eye–its anterior edge appears to be caved in, as if didn’t realize the speed it had achieved and didn’t apply the brakes in time during an approach. I’ve seen this happen to dragonflies a number of times, especially our giant Dragonhunters, belonging to the Hagenius species. It doesn’t appear to impede their incredibly-precise flying abilities, though I can well imagine that things sure must look kind of funny to them.


    September 6, 2014 at 5:36 PM

    • I believe you’re right that skippers are called skippers because of the way they dart around.

      The caved-in appearance of the eye is indeed what reminded me of the way the mustang grapes shrivel as they decay.

      Can’t say I’ve ever seen a dragonfly crash into an object but I’ve had a bird glance off my window on several occasions; it was startling.

      I’ve sometimes wondered how we look to other creatures, especially to those with multi-faceted eyes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2014 at 7:59 PM

  9. what a long nose you have.


    September 6, 2014 at 11:21 PM

  10. Beautiful detail!


    September 7, 2014 at 12:27 AM

  11. You were right. I never, ever would have thought to compare those grapes to this skipper’s eye. At first, I thought it was a little large, but when I checked photos of other species, I see they all have relatively large eyes — the better to see those flowers with, no doubt, not to mention predators and photographers.

    It does amaze me how everything on these creatures seems color-coordinated. The eye and the antenna that’s left seem to have the same colors and maybe even a similar pattern, rather like matching shoes and a purse when accessorizing a dress.


    September 7, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    • Comparing a butterfly’s eye to a decaying grape is hardly your run-of-the-mill comparison, so there was almost no way you could have guessed it.

      When it comes to color-coordinating, especially of shoes, purses, and dresses, I’ll leave all commentary to the distaff side of my audience.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 7, 2014 at 10:40 AM

      • Speaking of distaff, earlier today I came across this reflection on spinsters in the midst of a larger article.

        “In the Middle Ages the word “spinster” was a compliment. A spinster was someone, usually a woman, who could spin well. A woman who could spin well was financially self-sufficient – it was one of the very few ways that mediaeval women could achieve economic independence. The word was generously applied to all women at the point of marriage as a way of saying they came into the relationship freely, from personal choice, not financial desperation.”

        I’m not sure the word was quite so loaded in the beginning, but it’s still an interesting coincidence that distaff and spinster both showed up this morning.


        September 7, 2014 at 10:55 AM

        • From the article you linked to: “Hemingway’s famous assertion that solitude is essential for creative work is perhaps so oft-cited precisely because it is so radical and unnerving in its proposition.” I find that nature photography is inherently a solo pursuit. Even when I’m with nature-minded people on a field trip, they almost always move along at a pace that’s much too fast for me to spend the amount of time I’d like on each photo-worthy subject. Processing photographs on the computer is another solo pursuit, as is finding something coherent to say about them in a post.

          Along the lines of spinster is webster, a synonym of weaver. One famous Webster wove words into an early dictionary of American English.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 7, 2014 at 11:07 AM

  12. The clarity and detail is just amazing…Love the really rich color in your photo.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    September 7, 2014 at 11:21 PM

    • We’re fortunate to be able to see color. I’ve read the some kinds of animals see in monochrome rather than color.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 8, 2014 at 7:35 AM

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