A butterfly is a beauteous thing to behold, isn’t it? So graceful; so beautiful to the eye; so…., oh, so many things. The Monarch Butterfly, pictured beside, is just one example of these beautiful creatures that our world is graced with. However, this hub is not about the Monarch Butterfly, or even about butterflies per se. This one is all about a Californian native.
California dogface butterfly
The dogface butterfly, Zerene eurydice, is an inhabitant of California’s Santa Ana Mountains. This insect is also found in the foothills around Fullerton, the Brea hills and a few other coastal foothills. Its common name, dogface, is derived from the fact that the male butterfly’s dorsal forewing exhibits a pattern, imposed on the otherwise primarily black surface, that resembles, somewhat, the head of a poodle. Like me, you mightn't see the resemblance to a poodle's head at first glance, but when you view it in black and white, it does become somewhat more obvious.
Zerene eurydice is a fast-flying insect, its speed making it somewhat difficult to catch unless when it is nectaring at flowers. These butterflies may be seen nectaring at roadside thistles in the Santa Ana area, adult specimens showing a marked fondness for purple flowers. The dogface butterfly broods twice a year. The first brood takes wing from April through July, the peak flight period being in June, whilst the second brood can be seen between August and October.
There are other flies that look a lot like the California dogface butterfly. The southern dogface butterfly, Colias cesonia, for instance, comes with added advantage of both sexes displaying the dogface, and it also inhabits the golden state. However, the southern dogface is endemic in North and South America; it is not solely and unashamedly Californian!
Is it rational, in your view, to designate an official "state insect"?
If the choice were yours, would you choose the dogface as California's official insect or would you choose some other insect?
It's perfectly official!
Zerene eurydice is the official state insect of the golden state. A state insect, I hear you cry! Well, yes! A state insect! Sometime in the last century, 1929 actually, an L.A. based group, the Lorquin Entomological Society of Los Angeles, undertook a survey of active entomologists in the state of California in order to determine which insect was best suited for the position of state insect. The dogface butterfly, also known in that ancient time as the dog-head butterfly or the flying pansy won hands down, if one may use hands in relation to an insect. This view was not just that of a bunch of eggheads chasing round the countryside in search of an insect or other; the California Blue Book (a book published by and with the authority of the California legislature) of that year endorsed the view of the eggheads. This accolade was achieved at the expense of two other contenders: the Lorquin Admiral and the California Sister. The dogface’s victory was based on a simple fact: of the three major contenders, only the dogface was solely Californian; the other two wannabes could be found in places not under the jurisdiction of the golden state! Subsequently, the Bureau of Entomology, a section of California’s Department of Agriculture, used a representation of the dogface butterfly on its official documentation, passing it off as the California State Insect!
This passing off was jumping the gun by a bit for, in spite of the support given to Zerene eurydice by the legislature in 1929, nothing had been done to formalize its position as state insect; in fact, for decades after, California had no official state insect.
Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) served as the 40th president of the United States of America (1981-1989). Prior to this, he had served as the 33rd governor of the state of California (1967-1975). A film actor in his life before politics, his sobriquet, The Gipper, derives from his role as George "the Gipper" Gipp in the 1940 film Knute Rockne, All American.
Reagan was born in Illinois; so was Lincoln. Who do you think served his country better?
Recognition! At last!
This disgraceful state of affairs, the lack of an official state insect, was finally remedied some four decades ago when, on 28 July 1972, the Gipper, Ronald Reagan, then governor of the State of California, appended his signature to the California Assembly Bill No. 1834. The law, California Government Code, Title 1, Division 2, Chapter 2, at Section 425.5 specifies that the California dogface butterfly, Zerene eurydice, is the official sate insect of the golden state. The de facto situation was made completely de jure.
That the California legislature did what it ought to have done decades earlier was due to the efforts of a bunch of fourth-graders at a Fresno elementary school, guided, assisted and supported by their teachers, Mrs. B. Harding and Mrs. S. Klein. Aware that the dogface had served as the state insect, albeit in an unofficial capacity, for decades, the youngsters sought for and got the support of California Assemblyman K. L. Maddy to put things right.
Given the fact that this humble insect had served the state for decades without official recognition, one would be forgiven for thinking that the road to official recognition would be an easy one; in fact, it was anything but. It was an extremely tedious road, but Assemblyman Maddy persevered and won. The difficulties that his bill faced at the Committee level are now a mere historical footnote. As we noted above, on 28 July 1972, Zerene eurydice, California’s dogface butterfly, became the official insect of the golden state.