Sunday, August 22, 2010

When Butterflies Attack!!!

Monarch butterflies fighting AMcC

Seen through the rose-colored binoculars of the romantic nature-lover, butterflies are the very embodiment of harmony, as they flutter from one fragrant blossom to another. So how come I came home from work last week to find a brawl in my front yard? Three Monarch butterflies were duking it out, paying little attention to cars or photographers. These butterflies were not just circling each other in a “duel,” they were actually making contact!

Of course, butterflies have to struggle to survive and pass on their genes, the same as other wild creatures. Male Monarchs use a strategy for finding mates called “patrolling.” The male patrols an area, perhaps the top of a small hill were views are unobstructed, looking for females. I use the word look, because although moths are known to find mates through scent, butterflies rely primarily on sight (Boggs, Watt, Ehrlich, Butterflies: Ecology and Evolution Taking Flight, 75). Once the male detects a female, he gives pursuit and tries to mate. If however he encounters another male, he may attempt to drive off the interloper.

I remember spotting a male Monarch in my mom’s garden. When I pointed it out to her, she looked at me suspiciously. “How can you tell?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, still watching the butterfly in my binoculars, “you have to have a pretty good look.” (Bah-dum-bum.) She laughed hysterically. She didn’t even hear me explain that males have a small black scent patch on the hind wing, close to the rear of the abdomen.

I doubted whether I could get a photo of rock-’em-sock-’em Monarchs, but I headed out with my point-and-shoot camera anyway. I snapped off about 20 worthless shots of orange blurs above purple and yellow blurs. Finally, as I stepped up to a cooperative Monarch on my Rough Blazing star, another one dropped vertically into the frame, landing directly on to the first. I actually heard the collision! The first Monarch was definitely a male, but I can’t be positive about the attacker. However, of the three Monarchs I observed over the course of 2 hours, all the ones I saw well were male.

Monarch mayhem AMcC
I shared my photos with the Flickr group, “When Animals Attack!” Mine are the only butterfly photos in the pool.
3 Monarchs in a dogfight over Kirkwood AMcC

1 comment:

  1. That second photo is outstanding!