Saturday, June 20, 2015

Lorquin's Admiral Butterfly in the Pollinator Garden

     In our last blog, I wrote about butterflies.  I remarked that our warm sunny spring was going to provide great opportunities for butterfly sightings.  This week we had more evidence of this.

     Nancy was in her pollinator garden early one morning, watering the plants.  The sun had just come out:  lo and behold what should appear but a Lorquin’s Admiral butterfly.  This is one of our common June butterflies;  it can be found in city backyards, often around apple trees, where the males defend the trees and allow females to lay eggs on the leaves.

     This butterfly perched briefly on Nancy’s hose and then moved over to a compacted mole hill, now wet from Nancy’s watering.  You can see it as it flies in and starts to do a series of complex butterfly behaviors.

•  First, it pumps its wings open and closed.  When I saw that I knew it must have just gotten up:  this is a butterfly behavior in early morning, akin to how we humans stretch as we get out of bed.  They stretch their wings, pumping hemolymph (an insect’s version of blood) from their bodies into their wings, getting ready for flight.  
•  Secondly, it carefully positions its body to receive the strongest rays of the sun.  Butterflies are solar powered and rely on the sun’s light and heat to warm them up enough to get ready for action.  It has placed itself in such a way as to collect heat right on its body and the flight muscles just underneath.  This  helps prepare the animal for a day of flying, feeding and mating.
•  Finally it chose to do all these things on a pile of wet soil.  Butterflies are known to do something called “mud-puddling”;  the males in particular gather in clubs around muddy puddles, stick their drinking straw (aka proboscis) into the slurry and drink in mineral rich water.  It seems as if they especially need sodium, which is otherwise in short supply in their 100% nectar diet.  Here is a link that talks about this behavior:

     Nancy had never seen this butterfly behave in this way in her garden.  This is yet another example of how nature can show us amazing things, even when we are in the middle of ordinary tasks.  


All photos & videos by Nancy Partlow
The Butterflies of Cascadia by Robert Pyle

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