Sir Longtail

by Bethany Mast | Oct 1, 2023 | 0 comments

“A skipper with tails!” I exclaimed incredulously. “It must be something rare.”

That was what Mom had said, so I wasted no moments in getting out there to see. I dashed down the stairs, and mere seconds later I was gazing at the object of interest—definitely a rarity.

Clinging to the purple flowers of the butterfly bush, the skipper drank deeply, perhaps oblivious to the “lepidopterist” watching him intently.

I studied him carefully because the last thing I wanted was for this exotic specimen to decide he had seen enough of the North and whiz back to his southern home before I had him safely identified.

The overall coloration was brown—plain brown—but with many intriguing details. Its hindwings sported several dark spots and a solid, dark postmedian band. Even more intriguing was the bluish green iridescence I could see on the top of its body by looking between its mostly closed wings. But the most unique feature of all was the pair of long tails. Truly it was a masterpiece of God’s creativity.

While Mom kept an eye on him, I darted inside. First I snatched Butterflies of Kentucky. It wasn’t in there, so I pulled the Kaufman guide off the shelf and, starting at the back, I flipped through the skipper section: giant skippers, the common skippers, duskywings, flashers…oh, here was one that had tails and bluish green iridescence! But no, it couldn’t be. It was only a rare stray to south Texas. Furthermore, the outside of the wings didn’t match.

I continued paging…longtails! And there it was—long-tailed skipper. I compared the picture to the specimen, and there was no mistaking it. Its normal range was in the gulf states and partway up the eastern coast. A green dotted line showed that at times it wandered as far north as north-central Ohio and Pennsylvania. What a find!

Later that afternoon, wishing to see Sir (or Miss) Longtail again and show it to my siblings, I stepped out into the Kentucky summer heat and scanned the nectar-laden flowers of the butterfly bush. But I saw no tails—at least no skipper tails.

Maybe he would be on the zinnias. The zinnias were aflutter with skippers: Sachems, silver-spotted skippers, and Peck’s skippers—but no Sir Longtail.

Perhaps someday Sir Longtail’s mouth will water with longing for those nectar-laden butterfly bush blossoms, and he’ll pay us a visit again—maybe he’ll even stay for a bit.

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