Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the April 20, 2014 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

Also at Cook's Slough on Uvalde's south side a butterfly new to me was spotted perching atop a pile of raccoon poop in the middle of the trail. Above, you can see the numerous "eyes" on the butterfly's lower wing surfaces.

Volunteer butterfly identifier Bea in wintry Ontario was tickled to have a butterfly to work with, and especially happy that it was a species found only in a small corner of North America, from Southern Arizona east to South Texas, but mostly in the northern half of Mexico.

It was the Empress Leilia, ASTEROCAMPA LEILIA, and it was appropriate that we found her atop a pile of raccoon poop because adults of this species feeds mainly on plant sap and animal dung, only occasionally taking flower nectar. Its habitat is described as "thorn scrub, washes, canyons, streamsides."

Empress Leilia caterpillars feed on the Desert Hackberry, Celtis pallida. I've not seen Desert Hackberries during my year and a half in the upper Dry Frio Valley, but at Uvalde we were 781 feet lower in elevation than at Juniper House, and in an entirely different biogeographic province -- on the Coastal Plain, instead of on the southern slope of the Edwards Plateau. And in the scrub forest around Uvalde, Desert Hackberries are common. The genus to which the Empress Leilia belongs, Asterocampa, holds species often known as hackberry butterflies because their caterpillars feed on hackberry leaves. Male Empress Leilia butterflies perch most of the day watching for females, who lay eggs in clusters of 10-15 atop Desert Hackberry leaves

The name Empress Leilia doesn't seem especially appropriate for a butterfly occurring mostly in arid, Spanish speaking territory. I understand that the name "Leilia" is derived from the Arabic "leila," referring to night or "dark beauty," or the Persian "leila," meaning "dark-haired."