Most Californians could probably guess our state tree (the redwood), our state mineral (gold), and our state flower (golden poppy), but most people I talk to don’t realize that California has a state insect, the California Dogface Butterfly. First proposed in 1929, the Dogface (Zerene Eurydice ) became the official California State Insect in 1972. Other states soon followed suite, and most states now have an official insect. Named for a pattern on the male’s wings that resembles a poodle’s head, this butterfly was once also known as the “flying pansy”, and appeared on a U.S. postage stamp under its old name, Colias eurydice. The larvae of this butterfly feed only on the California False Indigo (Amorpha californica), while adults feed on nectar of thistles. More commonly seen in Southern California, the Dogface has become more difficult to find in our area, mostly due to destruction of its woodland chaparral habitat.
Deep in the bowels of the Academy’s insect collection is a special cabinet, referred to as the “OH-WOW” collection, containing many rare and unusual insects which highlight some especially interesting aspects of our collection. One of the drawers contains a collection of Southern and California Dogface butterflies collected by a British researcher in the 1930’s, showing the variation of colors and patterns among these animals. Of special interest is one rare specimen, known as a gynandromorph. Due to a mishap during reproduction, this individual is male on one side, and female on the other. This situation is uncommon, but is seen in a wide range of organisms. While I don’t know about this particular case, sometimes these animals can be functional as both sexes!
In my next blog, I will continue to expose some of the wonders contained in our “oh-wow” cabinet.
Invertebrate biologist, curatorial assistant and imaging specialist
Department of Entomology