Gesta (Erynnis) afranius

Afranius Duskywing

Afranius duskywings are small and dark spread-winged skippers that use Fabaceae-family plants - especially prostrates like Acmispon americanus (Spanish lotus, American bird's foot trefoil) - as their larval food plants. The use of legumes may help distinguish this species from other small duskywings, at least tentatively in certain places. Using wing characters with these dark skippers is not for the faint-of-heart. In fact, it may not be for the brave, either. But there are some guidelines that may help, though only in popular parts of southern California. If you encounter a small duskywing that doesn't have a white fringe on the hind wing, but does have hyaline spots on the forewing, your choices are almost always pacuvius, propertius, and afranius. Of these, afranius is the smallest (28-31 mm. acc. to Garth and Tilden 1986); propertius and pacuvius are noticably larger at 34-38 mm. and 33-38 mm., respectively. So with experience seeing these, size may help. A second consideration is what plants are in the habitat. As noted above, afranius is often around Spanish lotus or a near-relative. Pacuvius uses certain species of Ceanothus, and propertius feeds on oaks. If there are no oaks around, propertius becomes much less likely; same principle for the others. Another thing that may help: sometimes, afranius has a tan-colored hind wing fringe. But not always. Finally, and not to get too deep in the weeds, I find that propertius usually is more strongly marked, with more contrasting brown and tan colors. Oh, and males differ from females with all of these. So, without DNA testing, genitalic examination (which only works for males), perhaps watching a female oviposit, etc., these are usually educated guesses at best, especially when it comes to identification of photos.

Male Afranius duskywing skipper
A male Afranius duskywing. These can be quite small, which helps with the identification. This was at Laguna Meadows on September 27, 2023. Those at Lake Cuyamaca are very similar.
Afranius duskywing female ovipositing
This female Gesta afranius was ovipositing on prostrate lotus plants on May 15, 2022, at Keen Camp Summit in the San Jacintos.
Egg of the Afranius duskywing skipper
Here is the resulting egg, laid singly on the underside of the leaf of the plant, which I think is Acmispon decumbens.
Egg of the Afranius duskywing skipper
This egg was laid on desert lotus, Acmispon rigidus, at Cactus Spring Trail on October 8th, 2023.
Larva (caterpillar) of Gesta or Erynnis afranius - Afranius duskywing
This caterpillar was in a nest of leaves of desert lotus (Acmispon rigidus) at Cactus Spring Trail. October 30, 2023. I thought the brown head capsule meant is was funeralis. But in the spring, it was an afranius that emerged.