Zerene Eurydice the California Dogface Butterfly

On 28th July 1972, Ronald Reagan, then governor of the State of California, signed into law the (California) Assembly Bill No. 1834. The law (California Government Code, Title 1, Division 2, Chapter 2, Section 424.5) provides as follows: the California dogface butterfly (Zerene eurydice) is the official state insect.

The demand for an official state insect was a long-standing one. As far back as 1929, the Lorquin Entomological Society of Los Angeles had carried out a state wide survey of active entomologists in order to determine which insect was best suited to be California’s state insect. The dogface butterfly, also known at the time as the dog-head butterfly and the flying pansy, was chosen by a majority of the entomologists involved in the survey and this view was endorsed in the California Blue Book, published by the California legislature, of that year. In achieving this accolade, the dogface butterfly edged out two other contenders: the Lorquin Admiral and the California Sister. A major factor in the victory of the dogface butterfly was that, of the three major contenders, it was the only one whose distribution was solely limited to the Golden State. Indeed, subsequent to this vote of confidence by the state’s entomologists and the legislature, the California Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Entomology used a representation of the dogface butterfly on its official documentation designating it as the California State Insect. Yet, for more than four decades neither legislature nor executive took any steps to convert the dogface’s de facto position into a de jure one.

Reprieve came in the seventies of the last century when fourth graders at a Fresno elementary school guided and assisted by their teachers (Mrs. B. Harding and Mrs. S. Klein) sought for and got the support of California Assemblyman K. L. Maddy.

Surely, since the insect had served as the state’s insect, albeit in an unofficial capacity, for upwards of four decades, one would have thought that its transition to an official status would have been fairly easy. In fact the road to official recognition was paved with difficulties, but Assemblyman Maddy persevered and the difficulties that his bill faced at the Committee level are now a mere historical footnote. As we noted above, Zerene eurydice, on 28th July 1972, became the official insect of the Golden State, a position which it retains till this day.

But who, exactly, is Zerene eurydice?

The dogface butterfly is a yellow/orange and black/dark coloured butterfly that is commonly found in the lower and higher elevations of the Santa Ana Mountains, as well as in other California locations such as the foothills in the area around Fullerton, the hills in Brea hills and certain coastal foothills.

Its common name, dogface butterfly, is derived from the fact that dorsal forewing of the male, which is primarily black, exhibits a pattern that looks somewhat like the head of a poodle. In a related species, the southern dogface, Colias cesonia, both male and female exhibit the dogface pattern.

Zerene eurydice is a fast flying insect and it is difficult to catch except when it is nectaring at flowers. They are usually to be seen nectaring at roadside thistles in the Santa Ana Mountains and adult specimens show an especial fondness for purple flowers.

Two brooding periods have been identified for Zerene eurydice. The first brood flies from April through July, the peak flight period being in June whilst the second brood flies from August to October.