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.
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.
The Fatal Metalmark (Calephelis nemesis), a fairly common species found from Southern California, east to Southern Texas, shows some traditional metalmark bland, brown wings.
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.
The caterpillars feed on spiny hackberry, and adults nectar on nearby flowers.
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.