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Index of Butterflies &
Some butterflies, such as the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalidae:
Nymphalis antiopa) and Hackberry (Apaturidae: Asterocampa celtis)
feed on rotting fruit, sap that oozes from trees, and even dung.
Leonard's skipper (Hesperiidae: Hesperia leonardus) extends
its proboscis into flowers to obtain
butterflies (Nymphalidae: Vanessa cardui) prefer composit
family flowers such as zinnia for
(Nymphalidae: Danaus plexippus) will stop to feed on nectar
from plants such as this blazing star.
(Nymphalidae: Limenitis weidemeyerii) is one butterfly species
that will feed on dung, in this instance coyote
Checkered skipper (Hesperiidae: Pyrgus communis) shows the most
common basking position, with wings flat and facing the sun to
maximize capture of the sun's rays on its dark wing
Butterflies are cold-blooded creatures. They may need the sun to
warm their wing muscles so they can fly. They fly best when air
temperatures range from 75-90 degrees; so when it's cooler, they
bask, using the sun's heat to warm their bodies. A large, flat rock
in the butterfly garden provides a warm spot for basking when the
temperatures are cool. When temperatures get too warm, butterflies
The most common basking position is with the wings positioned
flat, facing the sun. Butterflies that bask this way often have
black bodies and dark colored areas on their wings. Most common
among Satyrs (Satyridae) and Sulphurs (Pieridae) is lateral basking
with wings folded and facing the sun. This is because the undersides
of their wings are darker than the topsides, or the bases of the
wings are darker than the edges. In a third type of basking, called
reflectance, the wings are used to reflect the sunlight to the
butterfly's body rather than absorb it. Butterflies that use
reflectance basking, such as whites, have lighter colored wing
butterflies drink fluid from the soil to obtain needed salts and
nutrients (Nymphalidae: Limenitis arthemis).
Butterflies congregate at the wet edge of mud puddles or wet
sandy areas, where they imbibe fluids rich in salts and nutrients.
Butterflies require these extra salts and other nutrients to mate
successfully. Typically, more males than females puddle. Males pass
the nutrients on with their sperm and these nutrients are used by
the females for reproduction.
Nutrients gained from puddling also help in producing pheromone.
This is the chemical sexual attractant released by males to attract
females to mate.
Patrolling and Perching
For the purpose of mating, male butterflies search out female
butterflies in two ways, by patrolling and perching. In patrolling,
the male butterflies fly over areas where the female butterflies may
be feeding or egg-laying. Butterflies do not, however, have sharp
vision; so once a patrolling butterfly spots what he perceives to be
a likely mate, he swoops down and examines it more closely. If it's
indeed a female of his species, he will begin the courting
butterflies, males perching on tall plants may be on the lookout
for mates (Nymphalidae: Vanessa cardui).
Some butterflies that commonly use a patrolling strategy include
the Monarch, Sulphurs and Whites. When butterflies fly upward next
to one another, they are either males combating one another for
territory, or males trying to convince females to mate with
Instead of patrolling, butterfly species such as the Mourning
Cloak (Nymphalidae: Nymphalis antiopa), Black Swallowtail
(Papilionidae: Papilio polyxenes) and Red Admiral (Nymphalidae:
Vanessa atalanta) will perch on tall plants in areas along streams
or ridges where the females are likely to occur. Once they spot
something that might be a female, they will fly in to explore it
closely. If they have found a female of the appropriate species,
they will begin courtship. If the intruder turns out to be a male,
the original male will give chase. Generally they will fly
vertically for a few feet after which the original male returns to
Flight patterns used in courtship differ among the butterfly
species. Typically, a male will fly above or behind the female,
fluttering his wings a bit more than usual. He may release
pheromones from his body or wings. If the female is interested,
she'll alight on plants or on the ground. Sometimes courtship
continues with the male touching the female's antennae or legs and
with different wing movements. They copulate by joining the tips of
their abdomens. Sometimes they even take flight during copulation
while still joined.
The mated female may try to avoid the advances of other courting
males. With many species, the female physically avoids contact
either by positioning her abdomen tip or spreading her wings in a
manner to make contact impossible, or by releasing antiaphrodisiacs.
Still other species, such as Sulphurs, fly upward in a spiral until
the male gives up the chase.
(Nymphalidae: Danaus plexippus) female lays her eggs on milkweed,
a larval host for the species.
If you notice a butterfly flying over plants, then touching down
briefly, you are watching a female searching for egg-laying sites.
Female butterflies recognize host plants through visual cues, such
as leaf shape and color. Plant scent further identifies a potential
Female butterflies also often drum on the leaf surface with their
feet. Drumming scratches the leaf surface, releasing chemicals
enabling the butterfly to identify the correct plant on which to lay
her eggs. Table 2 is a list of host plants for common