Metalmark Butterflies in the Garden

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picture of a red-bordered pixie

Metalmarks (Riodinidae), a large family of tropical butterflies, also inhabit the southern edges of the United States. Their combined presence totals approximately twenty native species, divided into six genera.

Loosely held together by the appearance of a metallic thread or band running through the wings, metalmarks otherwise get described as small, nondescript, brown butterflies. They often show up in southern gardens, though not often in large populations. Casual butterfly observers could easily mistake one for a skipper butterfly.

The two most colorful native metalmark species, the Blue Metalmark and Red-bordered Pixie shown above, reside in areas along the Lower Rio Grande valley of Texas. Metalmarks also fly around Southwest habitats, and three species fly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Northern Metalmark and Little Metalmark appear in pockets along the East Coast. Swamp metalmarks have established a small presence along the lower Great Lakes region and Midwest.

picture of a mormon metalmark butterfly

The Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo) holds the title of the widest ranging of all North American Riodinidae species. It lives in most regions of the Rocky Mountains, west to coastal areas.

Adult wing patterns assume a variety of forms. Picture three shows a specimen having a dominant orange wing color. Other forms show a dominant black wing color, especially on the hindwings. The numerous white spots on the wings are another good field identification clue.

The caterpillars feed on a variety of buckwheat plants. Adults nectar on nearby flowers.

picture of a fatal metalmark

The Fatal Metalmark (Calephelis nemesis), a fairly common species found from Southern California, east to Southern Texas, shows some traditional metalmark bland, brown wings.

picture of a male red-bordered metalmark butterfly

Red-bordered Metalmarks (Caria ino), an uncommon species, inhabits areas of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Males, like the one pictured, have dark wings, bordered in red with a silver or metallic band running through the red border. Females, like that pictured below, have lighter wing colors, with the same red bordering and metallic band.

picture of a female red-bordered metalmark butterfly

The caterpillars feed on spiny hackberry, and adults nectar on nearby flowers.

picture of a blue metalmark

Even though the picture suggests that the casual butterfly observer might mistake the Blue Metalmark (Lasala sula) for a blue butterfly, its limited range means there’s little chance of anyone stumbling upon one in the garden. They are rare in the United States with a couple of destinations in South Texas serving as their home base.

picture of a Zela Metalmark butterfly
The next three metalmarks are also specialy species with limited populations in Southern Arizona and New Mexico.

As the pictures show, they exemplify the concept of metalmarks as brown buterflies.

It starts with the Zela Metalmark. Two toned wings make for fairly easy identification of the Zela Metalmark. They are an Arizona specialty. However they can also be found in New Mexico.

picture of an Ares Metalmark
Ares Metalmarks are another two toned species that live in the south hills where Arizona and New Mexico meet.

picture of a
Arizona Metalmarks might be a subspecies of the more common Rawson’s Metalmark. Small populations can be found in the south hills where Arizona and New Mexico meet.

picture of a Palmer's Metalmark
Palmer’s Metalmark is a fairly common Southwest metalmark species.

picture of a
The Mexican Metalmark also goes by the name Sonoran Metalmark. The spotted wings resemble the Mormon Metalmark. However, it’s range only extends to a few Southwest states, up to Colorado.