Monday, August 18, 2014

Butterfly Aggression

Monarch interrupting tiger swallowtails mating - CB
What could be more peaceful and serene than butterflies fluttering around in the Butterfly House at Close Park?  Like a reality show named Real Butterflies of Springfield, there is a lot more going on if you watch closely.

Chris Barnhart has videos of lepidoptera lust and mayhem posted on Youtube.  The first one pictured above was a monarch persistently interrupting a pair of mating tiger swallowtails.  The monarch continued in the interspecies "menage a trois" until Chris physically removed it, as seen in this video.  You try explaining what the butterflies were doing to a group of little kids!

Male monarchs wrestling on the gravel floor- CB
I don't think of butterflies as aggressive but they can be very territorial as well as competitive in breeding.  Red admiral butterflies are notorious for defending their nectaring territory.  Chris tells me that monarchs are also aggressive, an important trait if you have to fly 2,500 miles to find a branch to land on in a crowded forest.  The two male monarchs pictured above can be seen in this video doing their impression of W.W.F. contestants.  The cause of their altercation is unknown.

It is an insect eats insect world in nature and this continues in the house.  Although we try to control loss at all monarch stages, there are lots of predators in every stage in their growth.  When the caterpillar hatches it eats its egg before starting on the milkweed host.  At times the caterpillar will come across another egg and eat it.  This fratricide increases the survival odds by ensuring a better food supply. 
Rat nibbling on a black swallowtail caterpillar - CB
There has been an unusual predator in the house recently.  This rodent above, possibly a cotton rat, was seen munching on a black swallowtail caterpillar.  While this is part of the balance of nature, it is considered rude in the Butterfly House.  It is facing deportation soon and will be available to the first caller.

Coming next, but what are they?

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