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Butterflies of the Indian subcontinent
Long-tailed Blue / Pea Blue
Lampides boeticus  LINNAEUS, 1767
Family - LYCAENIDAE
subfamily - POLYOMMATINAE
Tribe - POLYOMMATINI
Lampides boeticus, Chilapata, West Bengal, India Adrian Hoskins
Introduction
The Long-tailed Blue, or Pea Blue as it is often called, is the sole member of the genus Lampides. Despite its small size and apparent fragility it is strongly migratory, able to cross seas, oceans and low mountain ranges with relative ease. It is one of the commonest and most widespread species in the Old World, breeding in southern Europe, almost throughout Africa, and across southern Asia to Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. It reached New Zealand in 1965, and Hawaii in 1882. It has not yet reached the Americas, although it is likely to do so within a few years, most probably as a result of being accidentally introduced with an imported plant.
In the Oriental region boeticus is very widespread and common, largely due to the use of one of its larval foodplants Crotalaria as a cover plant in rubber plantations.
On the upperside males are pale blue with narrow dark borders. Females are dark earthy brown, with a slight flush of pale blue scales at the base of the wings. The pattern on the underside is unique, so this species is unlikely to be confused with any other.
Habitats
This highly adaptable species is found in many different types of environment including coastal habitats, open grasslands, riverbanks, plantations ( e.g. oil palm, tea, eucalyptus, rubber ), parks, gardens, temperate forests and along roadsides. It occurs at all elevations up to about 1800m.
Lifecycle

The eggs are china-white and covered with a network of reticulations. They are laid on the flowers, sepals and flower stalks of herbs and bushes in the family Fabaceae including Alhagi, Astragalus, Cajanus, Canavalia, Chamaecytisus, Cicer, Clianthus, Crotalaria, Cytisus, Dolichos, Helianthemum, Kennedia, Lathyrus, Lotus, Lupinus, Medicago, Onobrychis, Phaseolus, Pisum, Psoralea, Pueraria, Sesbania, Spartium, Sutherlandia, Swainsona, Trifolium, Ulex, Vicia and Virgilia.

The larvae when fully grown are cylindrical, and occur in several colour forms including dark green, yellowish green, and pearly white. All forms have a brown dorsal stripe, reddish lateral streaks and a brown head. The larva has a honey gland on the 7th abdominal segment which attracts certain ant species which milk it for the secretion. The presence of the ants is undoubtedly beneficial in providing a degree of protection against parasitoid wasps and flies. The larva is cannibalistic at all stages of its life, with the result that only one larva survives on each plant.

The smooth rounded chrysalis is creamy or pale brown, with a dark dorsal line. It is usually formed at ground level, attached to a dead leaf.

Lampides boeticus, male  Adrian Hoskins

Adult behaviour

The migratory nature of the butterfly means that adults can be seen singly almost anywhere, but normally in the areas where it breeds several can be seen flying together around leguminous herbs and bushes.

Both sexes nectar at a wide variety of wild and cultivated flowers. Males also visit damp ground to imbibe mineralised moisture, usually aggregating with other Polyommatine species.

The thin antennae-like 'tails' on the hindwings, together with the orange, silver and black 'eyespot' at the tornus act together to create the impression of a false head, and divert the attention of birds away from the body. When the butterfly first settles it immediately turns around, and when feeding it often walks about in tight circles, thus a predator is never quite sure which direction it is facing. It also jiggles its hindwings, causing the tails to wiggle like antennae. This reinforces the back-to-front illusion, and tricks attacking birds into aiming at the tail instead of the head or body, enabling the butterfly to escape relatively unharmed, while leaving the bird with nothing but a piece of detached wing in its beaks.

Overnight or in dull weather the butterflies roost on dead flowerheads or at the top of tall stems, adopting a head-downwards posture.

Lampides boeticus, male, Yoksam, West Sikkim, India  Adrian Hoskins

 

 

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