The Wood Folk Diaries: Volume 3, Chapter 11: Coral Hairstreaks and Cherries

Dear Wood Folk,

Hairstreaks (subfamily Theclinae) are distinct looking tiny butterflies that usually have a small protruding “hair” at the end of their tail. Today we’re focusing on the coral hairstreak (satyrium titus) and its very cherry host plants, but we’ll also give a brief summary of the rest of Ontario’s hairstreaks and the various host plants they use.

Coral hairstreak (satyrium titus)
Coral hairstreak (satyrium titus)

Coral Hairstreak Plant Allies

Coral hairstreaks have a simple list of host plants. They are almost all cherries (prunus spp.)! The exception is black chokeberry (aronia melanocarpa). We’ve covered many of this hairstreaks host plants. Pin/fire cherry, Canada plum, and especially black cherry (pictured below). Black cherry is the most documented host plant for coral hairstreaks.

Native prunus species are shrubs and trees that are very popular for wildlife viewing. Check your cherry saplings at dusk for the hairstreak’s little green caterpillars and their host of ant defenders who like the sugary substance these caterpillars secrete. When the cherries are ripe they’ll provide ample birdwatching too.

Black cherry (prunus serotina)
Black cherry (prunus serotina)

As adults, coral hairstreaks have an eye for butterfly milkweed (asclepias tuberosa), an orange flowered milkweed that is native to Ontario. Our other native milkweeds and dogbanes are favoured as well, but they’ll go straight for the orange milkweed if its there! I see corals every year because the 100 acres has a grassy field full of milkweed and spreading dogbane.

More Hairstreaks and Plant Allies

Banded hairstreak (satyrium calanus), most common in Haliburton
Banded hairstreak (satyrium calanus), the most common hairstreak in Haliburton

The most common hairstreak around Haliburton county is the banded hairstreak (s. calanus). Its host plants are oaks and walnut family trees like hickories. All wonderful trees to tend on a lot here. Oaks are in fact one of the top overall hosts with well over 500 species of moths and butterflies species using them (in North America).

Besides cherries (prunus spp.), hickories (carya spp.), walnuts (juglans spp.) and oaks (quercus spp.), there are hairstreaks that will host on bearberry, blueberries, mallows, legumes, and more.

Some species are named after their habitat/host plant. The eastern pine elfin (callophrys niphon) hosts on pine that’s near nectar sources.

Around 11 hairstreak species have been spotted here around Haliburton. (Click here too see them pictured on iNat. Or here for all ~17 Ontario wide!) Some look like the headline coral, others are brown and camouflaged like the elfin, and then there’s the stunning green and orange early hairstreak (erora laeta) and its lookalike juniper hairstreak elsewhere in Ontario. If I covered every local hairstreak it’d take up a whole years worth of Wood Folk Diaries. So we’ll just cover a hair.

Next month’s Wood Folk Diary is about the elusive black swallowtail butterfly and one of our trickiest to ID plant families, which includes some of the most poisonous herbs hereabouts!

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