One of the most extraordinary thing about the dorantes longtail butterfly, Urbanus dorantes, is its range. You might spot one while hiking through Peru — or along the edges of a cypress forest in the backwoods of Florida. This butterfly is that widespread.
Florida's peninsula is the northern most point of its normal range, although it does make occasional forays into south Georgia, Northern California and even into Missouri. It's also found in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America into Argentina.
According to Butterflies and Moths of North America, the Dorantes longtail spends most of its time upside down underneath leaves but will be seen nectaring in winter. Among its favorite flowers: the ubiquitous Spanish needles, lantana and ironweed. Shown above: Jack-in-the-bush.
It is shaped and colored like most members of Hesperidae, the skipper family, except for the elongated tail. Dorantes longtails are medium sized, with a wingspan that can hit two inches. The forewings have clear spots on them — seen in the silouhette photo below — but this butterfly is generally a mottled mix of browns. One thing to note when identifying this butterfly: the long tail can be absent from some individuals because of wear.
The Dorantes longtail is somewhat similar to the longtailed skipper, another common butterfly in Florida. However, the longtailed has iridescent blue-green hairs on its back that the Dorantes lacks.
You'll find the Dorantes longtail along the edges of woods, in clearings, roadsides and overgrown fields. It is "in flight" year round in Florida. It will produce three or four generations per year. Females lay a small cluster of eggs on the underside of a host plant, mostly members of the pea and bean families.
The population of Dorantes longtails is globally secure, but that wasn't always the case, at least not in Florida. The butterfly was believed not to exist in the Sunshine State as late as 1969, even though specimens had been found in Miami in 1916 and Tampa in 1908. It had not been seen in the interim, and the two specimens were considered frauds.
In 1969, however, naturalists began finding Dorantes longtails throughout the peninsula, raising the question, how the heck did they get there? Three theories: they were blown there by Hurricane Camille that struck the Gulf Coast in 1969; they flew to Florida along the Gulf Coast from Texas; or somehow got a lift from people. A fourth explanation, that they were here all along doesn't seem plausible; if it were here, almost certainly someone over a span of more than 50 years would have seen it.
In any case, the Dorantes skipper is now fairly common throughout the state.
Dutch naturalist Kaspar Stoll described the Dorantes longtail in 1790. We're guessing the names honors Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, a 16th century Spanish explorer of Mexico and the American southwest. It's also called the Dorantes skipper.