Butterflies Are Confusing

Last week I snapped my first photo of an Oregon butterfly.

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Handsome creature, isn’t it? I recognized it as some sort of checkerspot, a group of butterflies I’m not very familiar with, and figured I would identify it to species using my field guide when I had a chance. However, as sometimes happens, this turned out to be more complicated than I expected. The best match in my book was the Variable Checkerspot, Euphydryas chalcedona, but none of its illustrated, er, variations perfectly matched the patterns of colored dots on the wings of the butterfly in my photo. Luckily, thanks to the wonders of Twitter I recently “met” a lepidopterist who used to do a lot of collecting in this part of Oregon, @AndyBugGuy. I tweeted the photo for him to see and he told me it was a male Euphydryas colon, the Snowberry Checkerspot. That species is not even listed in my field guide! What gives?

Turns out there are a lot of different populations and subspecies of the Variable Checkerspot, some of which may or may not be actually be distinct species of their own, depending on who you talk to. (And it doesn’t help that each one seems to have more than one common name. Euphydryas colon can also be called the Colon Checkerspot, and Euphydryas chalcedona can also be the Chalcedon Checkerspot. Argh!) So I wasn’t really wrong. Andy the tweeting lepidopterist says I need to buy a whole other butterfly book devoted solely to the many variations of the species found in the Cascades, but in the meantime I may just keep pestering him with my photos when I get stuck. In any case, butterflies are confusing, and I have a whole new diverse set of them to deal with now that I’ve moved to the other end of the continent.