Whirlabout (Polites vibex) (Geyer, 1832)

Diagnosis: Above, the male forewing is bright yellowish orange, with a prominent black stigma and a dark jagged-edged margin, and the hindwing is dark brown with a small central orange patch. The female is dark brown above with small whitish spots on the forewing. The underside is orange in the male and greyish in the female, in both sexes with large blurred dark spots. Wingspan: 26 to 30 mm.

Subspecies: Three, but only the nominate subspecies has been recorded in Canada.

Range: Polites vibex is resident from southeastern U.S. to the West Indies and Argentina, migrating northward to Ohio and Connecticut, and once to Toronto, Ontario.

Similar Species: Males could be confused with the male Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus). The hindwing underside pattern of the female is unique. [compare images]

Early Stages: The larva is pale green with a dark dorsal line and pale lateral lines; the head is blackwith cream lines and spots. It feeds on grasses.

Abundance: Although common in Florida and the Gulf states, it is much less common farther north.

Flight Season: The Whirlabout flies all year in the extreme south, and migrates north in late summer and fall.

Habits: As the common name implies, the Whirlabout has a very fast flight and is most readily approached when it is feeding on flowers.

Remarks: There is a single Canadian record of Polites vibex, a female taken at Toronto by Arthur Gibson some time before 1910, and now in the Canadian National Collection in Ottawa. Although this record was reported by the collector (Gibson, 1910) and the specimen was known to exist, it was discounted because of another species listed from Toronto in the same publication. This is Polites baracoa (Lucas), a species largely confined to Florida and therefore highly unlikely to have been taken at Toronto; its inclusion in Gibson's paper made the Polites vibex record equally suspect. Gibson's "P. baracoa" specimen was recently found in the CNC, under Polites themistocles; it is in fact a slightly aberrant themistocles. Gibson's error was not in the labelling but in the identification of the specimen, so there remains no reason to doubt the Polites vibex record (Wormington, 1995b).

© 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.