Love and wings are in the air for the El Segundo blue butterfly, that little inch-long flapper that has found a stronghold in the Ballona Wetlands. From now until about early September, these flutterers emerge from their cocoons and start their happy mating dance.
It’s also a happy time for butterfly watchers, especially the Friends of Ballona Wetlands who have worked hard to restore the habitat for this tiny endangered species; the El Segundo is only found in coastal areas of southwestern LA County. A small population of 30 was discovered in 2011 and, thanks to habitat restoration efforts, the butterfly species now has numbers in the hundreds at Ballona. The blues are only found at two other areas: LAX airport and El Segundo, its namesake.
“To see this growing population of butterflies flourish in the Ballona Dunes where they once were commonplace is very exciting,” says Dr. Irena Mendez, natural resources consultant for Psomas who has been monitoring the El Segundo blue for two years.
If you venture out to Ballona’s sand dunes in the coming weeks, (and we think you should via a Friends-sponsored tour) you can witness the electric blue males enticing the subtly-hued females in a fluttering courtship and mating dance.
Adult blues live anywhere from 2-16 days. Life is short for El Segundo blues that spend most of their time perching and searching for mates. Oh, and laying eggs.
Eggs become larvae (caterpillars) in only 3-5 days. Young caterpillars must dodge parasitic wasps for survival and also eat, eat, eat.
You may see strange bedfellows among the caterpillar’s favorite buckwheat and seacliff flower tops. Caterpillars team up with a variety of ants that are attracted to the larvae’s sweet secretions. Perhaps this symbiotic relationship keeps predators at bay?
Caterpillars will eat until they are ready to move into their pupa (cocoon stage) which they prefer situated in leaf litter under plants. They can be hunkered down in their cocoons for up to 2 years, but usually it’s just one year. Once the summer heat and sunlight hits, the happy dance of life begins again in SoCal’s remaining dune habitats – and when humans hope for more blues to fill and cover up the sky.