Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Pearly Eyes in Illinois

The mention of butterflies usually brings to mind the image of brightly colored creatures sipping nectar at midday from equally brightly colored blossoms in sunny meadows or gardens. However, a small, exclusively North American genus (Enodia) of drably colored butterflies known as pearly eyes does not fit this popular conception. The three species of pearly eyes are forest insects, and their flight activity is generally at dawn and at dusk. At midday they often perch high on tree trunks where they are wary and difficult to approach.

Northern pearly eye (Enodia anthedon) Photo by Douglas Yanega.

Pearly eyes do not visit flowers; rather, they imbibe fluids from bird excrement, decaying animal flesh, and sap that flows from wounds on trees. The larval stages of these butterflies feed upon coarse grasses.

All three species of pearly eyes are known to occur in Illinois. The northern pearly eye, Enodia anthedon, occurs in suitable habitat throughout the state. Its larvae feed upon such forest grasses as broadleaf uniola and bottlebrush. The other two species--pearly eye, Enodia portlandia, and Creole pearly eye, Enodia creola --occur in a few counties of southern Illinois where their larval host, giant cane, grows. Long confused with the northern pearly eye because of their extreme similarity in appearance, the Creole pearly eye and pearly eye are considered rare and little-known. Perhaps due to the somberly drab coloration of these butterflies, they are little noticed in the dappled shade of their gloomy riverine haunts.

Creole pearly eye (Enodia creola) Photo by Douglas Yanega.

Pearly eye (Enodia portlandia) Photo by Douglas Yanega.

Only a few records are available for the Creole pearly eye in Illinois, and the pearly eye remained unknown in Illinois until the writer discovered a colony in Alexander County in 1992. To date, only a single population has been located, but a search to discover additional populations of this rare denizen of our southern forests continues.

John K. Bouseman, Center for Economic Entomology 

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Subject: INHSPUB-2178
Last Modified 3/19/96

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