Butterflies are Ravishing.. and Raunchy

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Butterflies entrance us all. They are delightfully delicate and beautiful, as they flit through the air, landing on flowers that only accentuate their elegance. Here's the kicker.. have you ever seen a butterfly land on something.. not so beautiful? The phrase "blood, sweat and tears" has a new meaning when it comes to our fluttery friends, they are interested in eating all of the above. 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Photo by Heather Kerrison. 

Butterflies are known as pollinators, but the variance in their diets and food choices can quite honestly be a little revolting. If they only drank nectar (essentially sugar water) their diet would be a little lacking of the nutrients vital to their survival.. so they get a bit more down and dirty. They exhibit a behaviour known as mud-puddling. Broadly, this is a behaviour whereby a butterfly, or other insect seeks out a moist surface (i.e: mud puddle, faces, rotting plant or animal matter, blood, sweat, tears) and use their “tongue”, called a proboscis, to suck up sodium and other amino acids. 

This behaviour is most commonly exhibited by male butterflies. If you have ever had a butterfly land of you and thought “he’s so sweet!”. You’re correct about the “he” part. Excess salt and amino acids that are collected by the male are then given to the female as a so-called “nuptial gift” and will aid in the survival of her eggs. 

Let's explore some of the more "yucky" items that butterflies find appetizing: 

1. Poop!

That's right, they eat poop. Animal poop is full of all kinds of helpful nutrients including salt. It is not uncommon to see butterflies land right on a pile to start absorbing those very nutrients. 

Baltimore Checkerspot on Coyote poop. Photo by Shayna Hartley. 

2. Blood, Sweat and Tears

Have you ever had a butterfly land on you? It can feel pretty magical, but they are usually after one thing and one thing only.. your sweat. Or tears, if you have some. Think of butterflies as the ultimate salt-seekers. I love a salty snack, but not this kind. Butterflies have been observed drinking the tears of crocodiles and tortoises. Check out this article for some really great pictures of butterflies drinking tortoise tears (this habit is kind of cute). 

3. Decaying Flesh

Not exactly first on my menu, but a favourite of butterflies. Quoted in this scientific paper: "Putrid fish, decomposing snakes, lizards, and mammals, and the urine, excrement, and odors of carnivorous animals attract certain species of butterflies and moths ". Decaying tissue is considered offensive to most, but can actually be used to “bait” butterflies, this technique is used by scientists that study or collect certain species. 

Monarch Butterfly. Photo by Kristen Martyn. 

There I said it! Butterflies can be down right yucky. And ravishing and beautiful. 
Whenever I think of butterflies eating preferences paired with the delight of many at their presence, it makes me believe that we can have great opinions of species that also have unsavoury habits. Every animal (humans included) can be downright yucky - and beautiful! Simultaneously. The two are mutually exclusive, and thankfully so for butterflies. If you want to teach your children this worthwhile lesson, check out the book "Butterflies are Pretty... Gross" By Rosemary Mosco, which details these habits with wonderful illustrations. 

Enjoy all the beauty that butterflies are bringing this time of year. 



No comments:

Post a Comment