Hairstreaks: King’s hairstreak (Satyrium kingi)
(Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae: Theclinae: Eumaeini)
Profile prepared by Mace Vaughan and Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
King’s hairstreak is found along the Atlantic coastal plain from Maryland south to Florida and west through the Gulf states, both along the coast and inland, to eastern Texas. Its habitat is damp to swampy woodland and stream edges in a range of forest types. Adults are found mainly close to the larval hostplant, sweetleaf. King’s hairstreak is uncommon or rare throughout its range and found only in small, localized populations. The principal threat is forest clearance leading to destruction or fragmentation of habitat.
Xerces Red List Status: Vulnerable Other Rankings: Canada – Species at Risk Act: N/A Canada – provincial status: N/A Mexico: N/A USA – Endangered Species Act: None USA – state status: DE, MD: Endangered NatureServe: G3G4 IUCN Red List: N/A
King’s hairstreak is uncommon or rare throughout its range and found only in small, localized populations. It is also not as widespread as its larval hostplant and often missing from what appears to be suitable habitat. It does not appear to be facing imminent decline but is not demonstrably secure. Both Delaware and Maryland list King’s Hairstreak as endangered under state statute.
King’s hairstreak is a small butterfly in the family Lycaenidae (goassamer-wings). It’s wingspan is 1⅛ to 1½ inches (3.0 to 3.8 cm).
The uppersides of its wings are brown with a whitish fringe and a pair of dark spots at the base of its twin tails (one long, one short). The hindwing margin is indented above the second (shorter) tail. The undersides of the wings are pale brown with a postmedian row of darker, white-edged spots and a submarginal band of dark spots that become cresent shaped toward the trailing edge of the hindwing. At the base of the tails are two tail spots, black by the short tail and blue by the long tail; each is capped with orange.
Satyrium kingi (Klots & Clench), 1952.
Habitat for King’s hairstreak is damp to swampy woodland and stream edges in a range of forest types—hardwood, conifer or mixed. Adults are found mainly close to the larval hostplant, sweetleaf (Symplocos tinctoria).
There is one adult flight period between May and July, although the exact timing varies with latitude. Eggs are laid singly and overwinter before hatching the following spring. Larvae feed on new foliage. The pupal stage is probably spent in leaf litter.
This butterfly is found along the Atlantic coastal plain from Maryland south to Florida and west through the Gulf states, both along the coast and inland, to eastern Texas.
Courtesy of Butterflies and Moths of North America, Big Sky Institute.
The principal threat is forest clearance leading to destruction or fragmentation of habitat. If gypsy moth continues its spread, then spraying to control this forest pest could become a threat. There are also reports of fire impacting colonies.
All known populations and their habitat should be protected and managed appropriately. Although this is not confirmed, it is suspected that use of prescribed fire may explain the absence of this butterfly from many suitable sites. A lack of fire may be an important feature, because King’s hairstreak is unlikely to be found at sites where fires have burned over entire stands of sweetleaf.
Surveys to identify additional populations and to monitor known populations should be done. Ecological studies are needed to understand why apparently suitable sites with the sweetleaf hostplant are not occupied. A better understanding of the impacts of fire would be valuable.
Opler, P. A., and G. O. Krizek. 1984. Butterflies East of the Great Plains. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.
Opler, P. A., and V. Malikul. 1992. A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies. Peterson Field Guide #4. Houghton-Mifflin Co., Boston, MA.
Scott, J. A. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.
Big Sky Institute, Butterflies and Moths of North America: King’s hairstreak (Accessed 1/21/09)
NatureServe Explorer (Accessed 5/13/05)
Neartica; Butterflies and Skippers of North America: King’s hairstreak (Accessed 5/13/05)
Carolina Nature; North Carolina Butterfly Photos: King’s hairstreak (Accessed 5/13/05)
Vaughan, D. M., and M. D. Shepherd. 2005. Species Profile: Satyrium kingi. In Shepherd, M. D., D. M. Vaughan, and S. H. Black (Eds). Red List of Pollinator Insects of North America. CD-ROM Version 1 (May 2005). Portland, OR: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.