Butterflies of New Mexico: The Metalmarks (Riodinidae)

by Steven J. Cary

Metalmarks (Riodinidae). Members of the Metalmark family share some characteristics of Lycaenids and some of Nymphalids. Our 9 species are small with long antennae. Some have wings with tinsel-like, metallic highlights. This family erupts into more than 1,500 species in Central and South America.


Calephelis nemesis (W. H. Edwards)  Fatal Metalmark (updated January 6, 2021)

Description. Among our smallest butterflies, Calephelis nemesis is about the size of a fingernail. It is dusky tan on the upperside with prominent brown smudges. On the underside it is tawny to bright orange underneath, with black marks and delicate metallic filigree. See figures below. Range and Habitat. This miniscule butterfly lives in Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. In southern New Mexico, it prefers Upper Sonoran Zone riparian and semi-riparian environments (counties: Ca,DA,Ed,Gr,Hi,Lu,Si), usually below 5000′ elevation. Life History. Seepwillow (Baccharis glutinosa; Asteraceae) and Virgin’s Bower (Clematis ligusticifolia; Ranunculaceae) are known larval hosts. Flight. Calephelis nemesis has at least two annual broods per year here. Our records extend from May 2 to November 20, clustering in June and again from August to October. Adults fly near the ground and come to nectar. Comments. Differentiating Fatal and Arizona metalmarks (the next species) can be complicated by intermediacy in some key visual characters.

Fatal Metalmark (Calephelis nemesis) Black Range foothills, Sierra Co, NM; July 14, 2016 (photo by Steve Cary).
Fatal Metalmark (Calephelis nemesis) Animas Mountain, Hidalgo Co., NM; August 1, 1992 (photo by Steve Cary).
Fatal Metalmark (Calephelis nemesis) Black River Village, Eddy Co., NM; June 20, 1998 (photo by Steve Cary).
Fatal Metalmark (Calephelis nemesis) Box Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Pima Co., AZ; August 3, 2018 (photo by Bryan Reynolds).


Calephelis arizonensis McAlpine     Arizona Metalmark

Description. Calephelis arizonensis is nearly identical to C. nemesis, but with a reddish hue above and distinctly checked wing fringes. It usually lacks Fatal Metalmark’s post-median smudges. Species determinations can be challenging for worn specimens. Range and Habitat. Arizona Metalmark is mostly Mexican, but it reaches into the SW US where it prefers foothill riparian settings in desert mountains. It is rare in New Mexico’s SW corner (counties: Hi,Lu), 4600 to 6000′ elevation, slightly higher in the landscape than Fatal. It has been encountered so infrequently in NM that very little is known much about its occurrence here. For example, it is not generally thought to be migratory, so do NM observations reflect breeding populations? More observations are needed. Life History. Jim Brock says the larval host is Arizona beggarticks (Bidens aurea, Asteraceae). Flight. Arizona Metalmark flies with C. nemesis and shares a similar brood sequence. Our three records are dated June 22, September 4 and October 10. Adults nectar at streamside flowers. Comments. Some experts have treated this butterfly as a subspecies of Calephelis rawsoni McAlpine.

Arizona Metalmark (Calephelis arizonensis) Gila River, Grant Co., NM; July 13, 2012 (photo by Elaine Halbedel).
Arizona Metalmark (Calephelis arizonensis) sitting and nectaring on its larval hostplant, Bidens aurea Pena Blanca Lake, Santa Cruz Co., AZ; Oct. 5, 2006 (photo by Jim Brock).


Apodemia palmerii (W. H. Edwards) Palmer’s Metalmark

Description. Palmer’s Metalmark has the general markings of the Apodemia genus, but it is the smallest of the bunch – only the size of a Calephelis. White spots decorate a rust and dark gray background on the upperside. The underside background is pale orange and light gray. Range and Habitat. From central Mexico to the Southwest US, Palmer’s Metalmark lives in mesquite flats and lowland riparian corridors. It breeds at least seasonally in southern NM (counties: Be,Ca,DA,Ed,Gr,Hi,Li,Lu,Ot,Si, So) usually below 5500′. Though small, it may wander northward and upslope to 8000’. Life History. Documented larval hostplants are mesquites (Fabaceae), including Prosopis glandulosa and P. pubescens. Partially grown larvae diapause overwinter. Flight. There are two annual broods in NM: May to June and August to September. Extreme dates are May 19 and October 14. Adults frequent host mesquites and visit nearby nectar. A warming climate could help this species breed year-round in southern New Mexico. Comments. NM populations may be assignable to ssp. Apodemia palmeri arizona Austin. Our oldest report is a specimen in the AME collected by Professor C. H. T. Townsend at Las Cruces (DA) on 28 August, c. 1890.

Palmer’s Metalmark (Apodemia palmerii) Gila River Bird Management Area, Grant Co., NM; August 26, 2019 (photo by Elaine Halbedel).
Palmer’s Metalmark (Apodemia palmerii) Las Cruces, Dona Ana Co., NM; Aug. 28, 2019 (photo by Rob Wu).
Palmer’s Metalmark (Apodemia palmerii) Guadalupe Canyon, Hidalgo Co., NM; September 3, 1983 (photo by Steve Cary).


Apodemia mormo (C. Felder & R. Felder) Mormon Metalmark (updated July 31, 2021)

Description. Like other members of this complex, Mormon Metalmarks are about the size of a fingernail. Solid black ground color on the dorsal hindwing and rear portion of the dorsal forewing distinguishes this species from related forms. Mormon shares with those other forms a dorsal pattern of white spots, some triangular. It is orange on VFW and silver-gray on ventral hindwing, both with white spots. Eyes are green or yellow-green. Range and Habitat. This butterfly occupies arid shrublands on the Colorado Plateau in NW NM (counties: Ca,MK,RA,Sv,SJ, SF,Ta?), 6000 to 8000’ elevation. Life History. Larvae eat wild buckwheats (Polygonaceae) such as Eriogonum wrightii, E. corymbosum, E. leptocladon, E. lonchophyllum and E. microthecum. Flight. Apodemia mormo is univoltine adults with adults on the wing in late summer, July 22 to September 29. Adults rarely stray far from host buckwheats. Comments. We have the nominate subspecies Apodemia mormo mormo. Individuals from populations bordering the Colorado Plateau in north-central NM and west-central NM sometimes seem intermediate with, respectively, Apodemia mejicanus pueblo or Apodemia mejicanus mejicanus.

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo) below Navajo Dam, San Juan Co., NM; September 7, 2016 (photo by Steve Cary).
Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo) near Visitor Center, Heron Lake State Park, Rio Arriba Co., NM; August 27, 2020 (photo by Steve Cary).


Apodemia mejicanus (Behr)  Mexican or Sonoran Metalmark (updated July 31, 2021)

Description. The dorsal ground color of Mexican Metalmark is dirty orange on forewings and hindwings, whereas Apodemia duryi is comparatively bright medium orange dorsally and Apodemia mormo has no orange at all on the dorsal hindwing. Ventrally, a thin, interrupted line of orange scales spears the mottled gray and white hindwing. This description applies to the nominate subspecies, Apodemia mejicanus mejicanus, and to subspecies Apodemia mejicanus pueblo J. Scott, which cannot be separated based on wing characters alone. Eyes are gray. Range and Habitat. Mexican Metalmark is distributed along the US/Mexico border from California and Baja coasts eastward through northern Mexico, southern Arizona, and New Mexico to west Texas. Within our state, one form of this butterfly inhabits Upper Sonoran Zone grasslands and shrublands in central and southern New Mexico (counties: Be,Ca,DA,Gr,Hi,Lu,SF,Si,So,To,Va), usually 5000 to 6500’ elevation. A second version lives in higher Transition Zone shrublands and savannas in north-central New Mexico east of the Rio Grande (counties: Co,Mo,RA,SM,SF,Ta,Un) from 6500 to 8500’ elevation, and in south-central New Mexico mountains (counties: Ca,Li,Ot,Si) from 7500 to 9500’ elevation. Life History. Larvae eat wild buckwheats (Eriogonum species; Polygonaceae). The larval host for southern New Mexico grassland populations is Eriogonum wrightii (Wright’s Buckwheat; Polygonaceae). The larval host for northern and southern mountain populations is Eriogonum jamesii (Antelope Brush). Flight. Mexican Metalmarks at lower elevations fly in two well-defined generations: April to May and August to October. Higher elevation populations are single brooded from about July to September depending on elevation. Adults fly near the ground and rarely wander far from host buckwheats. Comment 1. The principal reasons to divide nominate mejicanus mejicanus from subspecies pueblo appear to be voltinism (one versus two broods per year) and use of different host buckwheats. To date, the spring and autumn broods have not both been documented for every colony placed in this group. Comment 2. Apodemia pueblo was described from southern Colorado and for the sake of convenience I apply that name to all univoltine, Eriogonum jamesii-feeding, dirty orange populations, including montane populations in the Sacramento Mountains whose larvae eat both E. j. var. jamesii and E. j. var. wootonii (Gordon Pratt, pers. com.). Comment 3. Apodemia mejicanus pueblo may intergrade with Apodemia mormo on the Taos Plateau (Ta). It may hybridize with bivoltine Apodemia mejicanus mejicanus in southern New Mexico. Apodemia mejicanus mejicanus may hybridize with Apodemia duryi in extreme south-central New Mexico (DA, Ot) and with Apodemia mormo in west-central New Mexico (Ca). Zones of sympatry are as yet unstudied.

Sonoran Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus mejicanus) Burro Mountains, Grant Co., NM; June 13, 2013 (photo by Elaine Halbedel).
Sonoran Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus mejicanus) Black Range foothills, Sierra Co., NM; May 11, 2016 (photo by Steve Cary).
Front Range Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus pueblo) on its host, Eriogonum jamesii v. wootonii, Carrizo Peak, Lincoln Co., NM; July 13, 2017 (photo by Steve Cary). 
Front Range Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus pueblo) Eagle Nest Lake State Park, Colfax Co., NM; July 19, 2021 (photo by Marc Bailey).
Female Front Range Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus pueblo) ovipositing on Eriogonum jamesii v. jamesii, near Eagle Nest Lake State Park, Colfax Co., NM; July 25, 2021 (photo by Marc Bailey).
Front Range Metalmark larva (Apodemia mejicanus pueblo) on its host, Eriogonum jamesii v. wootonii, west of Alto, Sierra Blanca, Lincoln Co., N; , May 19, 2001 (photo by Steve Cary).


Apodemia duryi (W. H. Edwards)  Dury’s Metalmark (updated March 25, 2021)

Description. Its bright orange dorsal ground color makes Dury’s the most lightly colored member of this complex. The complete absence of orange scales on the ventral hindwing has been posited as diagnostic for Apodemia duryi, while other taxa in this complex have a single weft of orange woven into the gray and white VHW pattern. Range and Habitat. This butterfly lives in scrublands of the lower Rio Grande and lower Pecos River valleys (counties: DA,Ed,Ot), below 5000′. Life History. Here’s an attention-getter: larvae eat Littleleaf Ratany (Krameria erecta = glandulosa = parvifolia; Krameriaceae) instead of the expected Eriogonum spp. A second desert ratany, Krameria lanceolata, should be watched for potential oviposition activity by Apodemia duryi. Flight. Three annual broods produce peak numbers in March to April, June, and September. Extreme dates are February 17 and September 26. Adults fly about the hosts, occasionally seeking nectar nearby (e.g., Rhus spp. in early spring). Comments. This metalmark was discovered 5 miles east of Mesilla (DA) on 20 April 1881 by Ohio naturalist Charles Dury. Intermediates with Apodemia mejicanus (see below) occur frequently in the Organ Mountains.

Dury’s Metalmark (Apodemia duryi) east slope Tortugas Mountain, Dona Ana Co., NM; April 9, 2020 (photo by Jim VonLoh).
Dury’s Metalmark (Apodemia duryi) Organ Mountains, Dona Ana Co., NM; May 22, 2020 (photo by Rob Wu).
Dury’s Metalmark (Apodemia duryi) placing an egg at the base of flower bud of Krameria; east slope Tortugas Mountain, Dona Ana Co., NM; April 9, 2020 (photo by Jim VonLoh).
Apodemia duryi host Littleleaf Ratany (Krameria erecta; Krameriaceae) north base of A Mountain, Doña Ana Co., NM; May 4, 2014 (photo by Steve Cary).


Apodemia (Neoapodemia) nais (W. H. Edwards)   Little Jeweler, Nais Metalmark (updated July 28, 2021)

Description. The Little Jeweler is a metalmark, but it resembles a copper in terms of wing characters and it was originally described as one! It is bright orange above, sprinkled with black and with a white patch near the forewing costa. It is silver-white and orange beneath. Range and Habitat. The Little Jeweler has a limited range in the mountains of CO, AZ, NM and the Sierra Madre, with an isolated colony in west TX. It prefers shrubby savannas with the host. In NM it lives in major northern and western mountains (counties: Ca,Ci,Co,Gr,LA,MK,RA,Sv,SM,SF,To), 6700 to 9200′ elevation. Curiously, it is known from the Manzano Mountains but not the Sandias. Life History. Fendler’s Buckbrush (Ceanothus fendleri; Rhamnaceae) is the only known larval host in NM and CO. Partially grown larvae diapause through winter. Flight. Adults are in flight during one annual generation between June 12 and August 29, with peak numbers in July. They like to fly and perch near the host and nectar at its flowers, often alongside two other Ceanothus feeders: Callophrys affinis and Erynnis pacuvius. Comments. The English name for this butterfly honors Winslow J. Howard, a diminutive frontier jeweler and naturalist who, while living in Prescott, AZ, provided the type specimen for W. H. Edwards’ description of Apodemia nais in 1876. Four years later, in August 1880, University of Kansas Professor and entomologist Francis H. Snow found Apodemia nais at about 8000’ in the Santa Fe River Canyon (SF), for our first NM record of this species. Also, perhaps more commonly, called Nais Metalmark.

Little Jeweler male (Apodemia nais) Los Alamos Canyon below reservoir, Los Alamos Co., NM; July 31, 2019 (photo by Marc Bailey).
Little Jeweler female (Apodemia nais) Zuni Mountains, Cibola Co., NM; July 8, 2020 (photo by Steve Cary).
Little Jeweler (Apodemia nais) west of Las Vegas, Santa Fe National Forest, San Miguel Co., NM; July 14, 2010 (photo by Steve Cary).


Apodemia (Neoapodemia) ares (W. H. Edwards)   Ares Metalmark (updated January 7, 2021)

Description. This and the next species are the same size and can be difficult to separate. Ares is distinguished by a DFW cell lacking dark gray patches and a forewing apex that is not hooked. The DHW is gray on the posterior half and orange toward the costa. Ares markings appear precise, while Zela markings seem a bit blurred. Range and Habitat. Ares has a limited distribution in the northern Sierra Madre of Mexico, southeast AZ and southwest NM. It has been found in Upper Sonoran Zone savannas in the Peloncillo and Animas Mountains (Hi), between 4700 and 6500′ elevation. Life History. Larvae eat Quercus oblongifolia, Q. emoryi and perhaps other oaks. Flight. Unlike Zela, Ares is single-brooded with adults in flight only during the summer monsoon. Records span July 21 to September 24, with peak adult numbers in August. Adults are only too happy to visit canyon flowers. Comments. Occasional summer individuals seem to be intermediate between A. ares and A. zela, raising some doubt about their status as separate species. Perhaps A. zela is dimorphic in its autumn brood? Research is needed to better understand the relationship between these two insects.

Ares Metalmark male (Apodemia ares) Animas Mountains, Hidalgo Co., NM; August 20, 1994 (photo by Steve Cary).
Ares Metalmark female (Apodemia ares) Kitt Peak, Quinlan Mountains, Pima Co., AZ; August 8, 2002 (photo by Elaine Halbedel).
Ares Metalmark (Apodemia ares) Clanton Draw, Peloncillo Mountains, Hidalgo Co., NM; August 18, 1994 (photo by Steve Cary).


Apodemia (Neoapodemia) zela (Butler) Zela Metalmark (updated January 7, 2021)

Description. With a wingspan greater than one inch, Zela Metalmark is slightly larger than most other North American Riodinids. Like Ares it is tangerine-orange below with dark spots in loose rows. The forewing has a subtle apical hook and is gray-brown above with dark patches at basal and distal ends of the cell. The hindwing is gray above, grading into pale orange with rows of small, dark spots. It resembles the next species. Range and Habitat. Zela occurs from the equator through Mexico and into the southwestern US along the Sierra Madre. In NM it occupies Upper Sonoran Zone savannas in our SW quadrant (counties: Ca,Gr,Hi,Si), typically 4500 to 7500′ elevation. Life History. Larval hosts remain unconfirmed, but evergreen oaks (Fagaceae) are strongly suspected. Flight. Zela Metalmark is bivoltine with adult numbers peaking in April and again in August. All our records fall between March 6 and September 5. Look for adults on flowers in canyon bottoms and in streamside meadows. Comments. US populations belong to ssp. Apodemia zela cleis (W. H. Edwards). Recent records from Grant and Sierra counties might suggest northward or eastward range expansion (or incomplete prior information). Zela and Ares were recently shifted out of the genus Emesis and into Apodemia based on genomic studies.

Zela Metalmark female (Apodemia zela) west of Kingston, Sierra Co., NM; June 5, 2007 (photo by Steve Cary). 
Zela Metalmark female (Apodemia zela) west of Kingston, Sierra Co., NM; June 5, 2007 (photo by Steve Cary). 
Zela Metalmark male (Apodemia zela) Turkey Creek, Graham Co., AZ; April 7, 2019 (photo by Douglass Rankin).
Zela Metalmark (Apodemia zela) Page Springs Fish Hatchery, Yavapai Co., AZ; April 13, 2019 (photo by Joe Schelling).
Zela Metalmark male (Apodemia zela) Box Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Pima Co., AZ; August 2, 2018 (photo by Bryan Reynolds).
Zela Metalmark female (Apodemia zela) Box Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Pima Co., AZ; August 2, 2018 (photo by Bryan Reynolds).