Mulberry Wing (Poanes massasoit) (Scudder, 1864)

Diagnosis: This small skipper has rounded wings and a blackish upperside. Males lack a stigma. Both sexes have a row of orange patches across the hindwing upperside, smaller and sometimes almost absent in males. Males usually have tiny orange spots near the forewing tip, and the females have larger white spots in the same area, on both the upper and underside. In the centre of the hindwing underside there is a yellow area made up of a long central streak with two small yellow patches on each side. Wingspan: 22 to 29 mm.

Subspecies: Two have been described, but only the nominate subspecies is found in Canada.

Range: The Mulberry Wing has a very limited range; it occurs on the U.S. east coast, in a few states south and southwest of the Great Lakes, and in a narrow band extending from southwest Ontario, north of Lakes Erie and Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to Quebec just west of Montreal.

Specimen collection data

Similar Species: None.

Early Stages: The larvae are apparently undescribed. They feed on narrow-leafed sedges, Carex stricta and possibly C. aquatilis, at least in eastern Ontario. Specific identification of the sedges is complicated by the fact that the skipper colonies are usually in sterile, and therefore hard to identify, stands of sedges; the same problem occurs with the Broad-winged Skipper (Poanes viator) and the Dion Skipper (Euphyes dion).

Abundance: The Mulberry Wing tends to be extremely local but can be common within colonies.

Flight Season: Poanes massasoit flies from early July to early August, but is most common in mid-July. There is one generation throughout the range.

Habits: This species is restricted to patches of narrow-leafed sedges. With practice these are easy to find and recognize, even in the winter, and are almost always on wet roadsides, and usually no more than 50 metres long, although not all such patches have skipper colonies. The skippers never fly outside the sedge patches and only rarely above the tops of the plants; their normal flight is down in between the stems of the sedges, very slow and weak even when alarmed.

Remarks: RAL was able to record this species for the first time in Quebec by exploring roadside ditches for the characteristic sedge patches described above.

© 2002. This material is reproduced with permission from The Butterflies of Canada by Ross A. Layberry, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine. University of Toronto Press; 1998. Specimen photos courtesy of John T. Fowler.