Saturday, July 13, 2019

Just Butterflies....

I've always been attracted to butterflies.  It probably says something about my nature.  When I was a kid I spent time chasing butterflies with a net one of my uncles had made for a high school insect collection.  I learned how to mount them on a board for display and at one time had quite a few.  I used to be able to identify a large number of the ones common to the area where I grew up.  The one in the photo is a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae).  The photo was taken at our home in northeast Texas a few years ago.

At that age -- maybe 6 or 7 years old -- I wasn't aware of their role as pollinators; no one had given me the speech about the birds and the bees.

Sometimes I find myself distracted by a butterfly flitting across my vision.  On our small piece of the countrside we have a hay meadow bordered by woods.  Along the edge (a very important area for wildlife) there are wildflowers and flowering trees/shrubs that attract pollinators.  We also have allowed the milkweed to grow, relatively unchecked, as an attraction to the Monarchs which we find are using our meadow as a resource.  (I posted about them last year - link here.)  There have been many times I stopped my work and paused to watch a butterfly dancing among the flowers nearby.  Whatever noise I was making didn't seem to deter them from their task.

Photo of a Monarch cocoon I spotted in the meadow last year.

Did you know that some butterflies are attracted only to a single species of plant?  They have evolved a symbiotic relationship in which the chemicals in the flower of the plant create a scent that attracts the pollinator.  The butterfly absorbs those chemicals into its body and it may make them bitter tasting, or some other flavor that repels predators which might otherwise attack them.

Think about it; a bright, showy flower is just saying, "come to me" -- like a siren song -- so it will be pollinated.  The bright, showy butterfly pollinates the flower and floats off toward the next opportunity.  Why are they bright and attractive colors?  If I wanted to be unobtrusive to predators I would be wearing camouflage.  The secret to their sauce is that they taste bad and their bright colors quickly signal potential predators to leave them alone.  Being easily identifiable as tasting bad can have advantages.

The Monarch and the milkweed are complementary symbiotes (I'm not sure that's the correct scientific term used by wildlife biologists, but it conveys the thought).  What it means is that both species benefit from the relationship.

Obviously, I find all this stuff fascinating....

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