Bloodthirsty Butterflies

All, Parks at Home, Nature Notes
A butterfly sits atop a frog's head. The frog sits on a lily pad in a pond.

As a nature interpreter, I experience the wonder of nature on a daily basis. Being so close to the natural world allows me to see it in a different light than most. Oftentimes I find myself pulling all of my observations together to make some pretty substantial conclusions about the world we live in. So, it is with great joy that I bring to you my most recent conclusion about the natural world that surrounds us. Are you ready? Here it is:

In the insect world, one can discover a variety of creatures from the cool to the downright creepy. However, there is no group of insects in the insect world more hardcore than butterflies. 

Yes, you read that correctly. Butterflies. With the basic knowledge that most people have about butterflies already, I think you can agree that they’re pretty hardcore to begin with. I mean, what other group of insects has members that can travel up to 250 miles in one day (try doing that with an in-law) and completely metamorphosizes inside of some beautiful cocoons? See? Already in a league of their own, and we haven’t even gotten started with the super hardcore facts!

Butterflies become super hardcore when we discuss a particular behavior that sees them drinking the tears of crocodiles; joining vultures lapping up the blood of a carcass on the side of the road; and, on occasion, leaving their lofty life in the sky to join us plebs on the ground. 

Is this mud-puddling not hardcore enough for you? (Sound on for super hardcore butterflies.)

What would cause a delicate butterfly to land on the eye of a crocodile or rub wings with ghoulish vultures, you may ask? Well, on a diet that is based mostly on drinking the nectar of plants, adult butterflies can miss out on some crucial minerals (one in particular being salt). In order to obtain these lost elements in their diet, male butterflies will lap up mineral-rich liquids in a process known as mud-puddling. The females in turn, will get these minerals from the males.

Admittedly, the majority of butterflies that mud-puddle do it in – as expected – a puddle of mud and not in the eyes of Captain Hook’s worst fear. These pesky pools that can ruin your shoes can be a mecca for much-needed minerals in a butterfly’s diet. So, your next natural question might be, “If they can get the nutrients they need from mud, why the crocodile tears and carcasses?” To put it simply, butterflies take what they can get. Mud-puddling has been known to occur on various locations outside of mud puddles, including human sweat, animal scat, animal skin, blood from rotting carcasses and, of course, crocodile tears. 

Eastern tiger swallowtail
Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly

In spite of the fact that you aren’t likely to see many crocodiles roaming about Great Parks, you are still likely to see an Ohio species of butterfly doing their mud merengue. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources cites the following Ohio butterfly species as common mud-puddlers:

  • Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
  • Harvester (Feniseca tarquinius)
  • Common buckeye (Junonia coenia)
  • Great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele)
  • Eastern comma (Polygonia comma)
  • Mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
  • Question mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

The next time you are out, take a look around the ground and see if you can spot these aerial artists dancing in the mud or a pool of blood. Now I ask you, what do you think? Bloodthirsty butterflies that drink crocodile tears are pretty hardcore, aren’t they?


Will Buelsing
Nature Interpreter, Miami Whitewater Forest

 

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