The Butterflies of Massachusetts


      80  Columbine Duskywing   Erynnis lucilius  (Scudder and Burgess, 1870)  

      79   Mottled Duskywing   Erynnis martialis (Scudder, 1869)


Columbine Duskywing may well be extirpated in Massachusetts--- but as Dale Schweitzer put it in the 1986-90 MAS Atlas,  it is” not implausible that the species hangs on here in small populations in the Holyoke range and other localities where the foodplant is abundant.”

Scudder, and associated contemporary collectors such as F. H. Sprague, correctly distinguished Columbine Duskywing from Persius Duskywing/Wild Indigo Duskywing. (The latter two species remained confused until the 1930’s.)  D. F. Schweitzer believes that “The old specimens in the MCZ (and elsewhere) from localities such as South Hadley, North Leverett, Mt. Toby, Montague, Deerfield, and Granby are probably correctly labeled as this species. Specimens from Waltham, Malden and Milton also appear to be lucilius, but have not been carefully checked for wing hairs” (MAS Atlas). 

Columbine Duskywing must have been fairly easy to find in the Wollaston/Quincy/Milton area in the late 19th century.  Collector F. H. Sprague took some 19 specimens between 1878 and 1895. 1883 was a particularly productive year in that area: Sprague took specimens on May 30 (1), July 23 (3), July 24 (1), July 25 (3), and July 19 (1). June 1, 1896 also yielded three specimens. Sprague also found specimens on Milton Blue Hill (June 2, 1883) and in Malden (July 26, 1885).  There are two C. Bullard specimens from Waltham (May 9 and 22, 1897, det. J. M. Burns 1964), and a July 31, 1880 specimen from Belmont "Rock Meadow" (no coll.) (all MCZ specimens).

Sprague also took periodic trips to the Connecticut River valley, providing the earliest and most reliable specimens of Columbine Duskywing for that area.  He documented the presence of this species in Granby (3 specimens, 7/16/1885, and 2, 7/9/1885) and South Hadley (8/7/1883) in Hampshire County, and Sunderland (Mt. Toby) (7/18/1878 and 8/13/1883), Deerfield (7/13/1885 and 8/18/1883), North Leverett (7/29/1878 and 8/5/1878), and Montague (7/11/1885) in Franklin County.

Many of the localities for lucilius which Scudder listed in his published work (1899: 1463) -- for example Amherst, Andover, Princeton, Springfield, and Cape Cod (Woods Hole) -- relied on the reports of other collectors, and many are likely to have been wrong . The most likely of Scudder’s locations to have been correct is “the top of the Holyoke Range,” where he says it had been captured by several collectors.

It is hard to believe that Farquhar’s long 1934 list of  "lucilius" locations --which added Salem, Marblehead, Middleton, Manchester, Stoneham, Worcester, and Phillipston to the foregoing locations-- can all have been correct. Even less likely to be correct are W. P. Rogers’ 1935, 1936 and 1942 “lucilius” specimens from Fall River, Westport and Bourne (Yale Peabody Museum).  Jones and Kimball (1943) do not list Columbine Duskywing for Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket; the only duskywing they find present on the islands is Wild Indigo Duskywing.

On the basis of the 19th century eastern Massachusetts and Holyoke Range specimens in the MCZ, most authorities believe that Columbine Duskywing has declined precipitously in Massachusetts in the last 100 years. The decline appears to have coincided with the increase of Wild Indigo Duskywing, but it is not known if there is a connection (NatureServe 2012).

Columbine Duskywing cannot be reliably identified simply through binoculars. Non-technical descriptions may be found in Cech 2005, Layberry 1998, and MAS Atlas (Schweitzer).  Many writers recommend identification via host plant association and habitat, but as Cech points out, this is unreliable because Wild Indigo Duskywing has been known to reproduce on garden columbine, and because Columbine Duskywing may, like Wild Indigo Duskywing,  have adopted introduced crown vetch.

Host Plants and Habitat: 

The sole larval host plant is the lovely eastern red columbine, Aquilegia canadensis.  The 1995-96 Connecticut Atlas found Columbine Duskywing in the wild on this plant (see photos in O’Donnell et al. 2007). Eastern red columbine is native to, and found in, every county in Massachusetts, including the islands (Sorrie and Somers 1999). It  is fairly common, but is probably abundant in only a few locations in the western part of the state.  Abundance of the larval host plant may be important for the persistence of Columbine Duskywings at a location.  Deer browse on this plant is a threat.

The main habitat is rocky deciduous woodlands. The host plants and the butterfly are often found on exposed rocky outcrops associated with limestone, but also sometimes in ravines or gullies, especially below limestone cliffs.

Relative Abundance Today

Columbine Duskywing was not found during the 1986-90 MAS Atlas project, despite a concerted effort by C. Leahy and B. Sorrie to check the most promising columbine localities in the state at the proper flight time. Dale Schweitzer failed to find it despite serious attempts in Franklin and Hampshire counties in the 1970s. In this, as in some other cases, the presence of the host plant and seemingly good habitat does not guarantee the presence of the butterfly. 

MBC has no records of Columbine Duskywing, though a few searches have been made.

As Benner (2010) points out, the most likely locations for this species today are those where Sprague found it one hundred years ago: “the top of the Holyoke Range.”  The species occurs just south of Massachusetts in Canaan, Connecticut, in a limestone quarry area, and the trap-rock ridge habitat there also extends into Massachusetts in the Holyoke Range.

Broods and Flight Period

Columbine Duskywing has as least two and possibly three broods in the northeast (Schweitzer, 1986-90 Atlas; Layberry 1998). Scudder, who studied this species’ life history in the northeast carefully, reported May-June for the first flight; mid-July to mid-August for the second, and late August to September for a partial third brood.

For 1878, F.H. Sprague (1897) reported May 28 as the date of its first appearance in the Wollaston area in eastern Massachusetts, but in subsequent years he took Wollaston specimens earlier---on May 5 in 1882 and May 11 in 1895 (MCZ specimens).  Another early date is a May 9, 1897 specimen from Waltham (MCZ, C. Bullard, det. Burns 1964).  The latest Massachusetts dates among museum specimens are August 13, 1883, Mt. Toby (Sunderland) and August 18, 1883 Deerfield (MCZ Sprague specimens). Museum specimens do not demonstrate a third brood in Massachusetts.

The dates Scudder gives are similar to those for the Wild Indigo Duskywing, for which three generations are more solidly documented (e.g. in Connecticut). The 1995-99 Connecticut Atlas reports only two generations for Columbine Duskywing (O’Donnell et al. 2007).


Columbine Duskywing is found only in northeastern United States and Canada, and is declining or has disappeared around the southern and eastern edges of its range. While it is not known to be declining in upper Great Lakes states or in Canada, it is ranked S1 or “critically imperiled” in New Hampshire, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, is possibly extirpated in Massachusetts, and is not known to occur in Maine.  In Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia there is a small mid-Appalachian population which is disjunct from northeastern populations; the species is ranked S2 or “imperiled” in these states.  Columbine Duskywing is “apparantly secure” only in New York, Michigan, Quebec and Ontario. (NatureServe 2/2012)

The 2002-2007 Vermont Butterfly Survey found only two records of Columbine Duskywing (1 voucher, 1 sight), as well as two historical records, and determined that the species was “very rare” in the state.  All records were found west of the Green Mountains (McFarlane and Zahendra 2010).

Connecticut may hold the last viable populations of Columbine Duskywing in New England.  The 1995-99 Connecticut Atlas (O’Donnell et al. 2007) found only 4 records at two separate locations, compared to 18 pre-project records. But there may be other undiscovered locations on trap rock ridges. The species is ranked S1 in the state, and state-listed as an Endangered Species. 

Climate warming may negatively affect this species, while the Wild Indigo Duskywing, with a range throughout the southern states, may be more warming-adapted.


 79   Mottled Duskywing   Erynnis martialis (Scudder, 1869)

Mottled Duskywing is apparently extirpated from Massachusetts. There are many nineteenth century reports, and some specimens. The last reports are from the 1930's; the last reliable specimen from the 1880's.  No individuals were found during the 1986-90 Atlas period , and there are no BOM-MBC records.  Mottled Duskywing is also apparently extirpated from Connecticut. It was not found during the 1995-99 Connecticut Atlas, and the last records are from 1942 (Schweitzer, MAS Atlas; O’Donnell et al. 2007).

Once found throughout eastern United States, Mottled Duskywing is now sharply declining and gone from most of its northeastern range. It survived in serpentine barrens in Pennsylvania until about 1996, but it can probably still be found in the Albany pine barrens and a few other places in New York (NatureServe 2/2012; Schweitzer, Minno, Wagner 2011; map, Cech and Tudor 2005).

This duskywing can be identified with a good view through binoculars (see Cech and Tudor 2005). Identification of historical specimens is somewhat less problematic than in the cases of Persius Duskywing, Columbine Duskywing, and Wild Indigo Duskywing.

Mottled Duskywing's sole host plant is New Jersey tea, Ceanothus americanus, an attractive sand plain shrub which has probably also seen decline, owing to a combination of development, natural succession and deer browse. Large patches of New Jersey tea seem necessary to support the butterfly. The habitat is sand plains, pine barrens, and oak savannas. According to Schweitzer (MAS 1986-90 Atlas) the Montague Plains in Franklin County is today one of the few places in Massachusetts that seems appropriate for this species. But it was not found there during Schweitzer’s extensive searches in the 1970’s, nor has it been found subsequently.

In the late 19th century, Scudder, quoting Lintner, the N. Y. State Entomologist, wrote that Mottled Duskywing was "abundant" in the Albany, N. Y. pine barrens (1889: 1497).  In the Harvard MCZ there is an historic 1876 specimen from W. W. Hill, from Centre (now Karner, near Albany), N. Y.  Mottled Duskywing may still occur around Albany today, and in a few other places in New York (S. A. Hessel 1963-69 specimens in the MCZ; Shapiro, 1974).  Schweitzer, Minno, Wagner (2011:90) say that as of 2006-2007, it was still extant in the Albany pine barrens.  It is state-listed as a species of Special Concern in New York; see New York state Natural Heritage Program,  www.acris.nynhp.org/guide.php?id=7773 , including photo.

Historical reports in Massachusetts are legion, and there are some extant museum specimens.  Given the uncertainties of identifying duskywings, not all of the literature reports can be relied upon. However Scudder (1889: 1497) cited 19th century records from Andover (Scudder, 1 specimen), Waltham (“abundant”) (Scudder), West Roxbury (2 specimens, Minot), and Tewksbury (Alcott) in the east, and South Hadley, Amherst (Sprague), Amherst Notch (Scudder), and Springfield (Emery) in the west.

In the Harvard MCZ today there is one specimen from eastern Massachusetts (Blue Hill, Milton, June 14, 1891, A. P. Morse), and four from three locations in the Connecticut River valley:  Amherst, July 12, 1886 (2), South Hadley, August 7, 1883 (1), and Granby July 16, 1885 (1), all F. H. Sprague.  All these clearly look to be Mottled Duskywing, and were originally identified as such.

By 1934 D. W. Farquhar (1934) reports more specimen locations, adding Amherst again (H. H. Shepard) in the west and Marblehead (F. H. Walker), Salem (F. H. Walker), Melrose (Gypsy Moth Lab), Ayer (Gypsy Moth Lab), and Stoneham (C. V. Blackburn) in the east. The present location of these specimens is unknown, but since Shepard, Blackburn, F. H. Walker, and the Gypsy Moth Lab all collected in the 1920's and 1930's,  Farquhar's reports may indicate that Mottled Duskywing persisted in the Connecticut River valley and north and west of Boston until the mid-20th century.

At Yale Peabody Museum there is a specimen from a “boggy field” in Acton Center, 1962 (C. G. Oliver) which is labelled “martialis.” This identification should be re-checked, but seems unlikely to be correct since the habitat is not correct.


Mottled Duskywing is a specialized, monophageous species, and is probably gone from Massachusetts. Its global status is S3 or “vulnerable.”  It occurs only in eastern North America.  Its accepted range is from Canada to Texas but there are currently no states or provinces where its status is secure; it is vulnerable or imperiled even in North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and West Virginia (NatureServe 2/2012).

Habitat and host plant threats come from out-of-control deer, gypsy moth spraying, and in some areas excessive burning. Many sandplain barrens habitats are susceptible to natural succession without management. See Schweitzer et al. 2011 for fuller discussion of threats and management issues.




© Sharon Stichter  2012, 2013, 2014

page updated  9-11-2014

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