Posted by: cochinblogger | June 20, 2013

The Perversions of Butterflies

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The “Survival Guide” column (titled “Orangutan to the Rescue”) of the April 2013 of National Geographic had this tidbit  about butterflies:

There was much to admire off-trail — passing humans hadn’t disturbed these parts of the rain forest yet. At one point I saw a shimmering metallic blue pool in an opening. I moved closer and it vibrated, and hundreds of butterflies took wing. What I saw in their place was the sea of pig feces that had so interested them moments before.

Yes, butterflies — like little girls — are not all sugar and spice and all things nice. They are commonly regarded as beautiful, dainty creatures flitting delicately around flowers in perfumed gardens and living on their nectar. But there are butterflies that love sweat, mud, animal tears — and yes, feces. The link to “mud puddling” below has the gory details.

Mud Puddling, which refers to settling on damp soil in clusters to suck up nutrients, is seen in many butterflies. I first witnessed this phenomenon at the Thommankuthu falls last month, and took the following photos.

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In one butterfly book I own (Butterflies of Peninsular India by K. Kunte, Universities Press, 2000), the Baron is described as follows:

It is a habitual alcoholic. It is not attracted to any flowers at all. Instead, it greatly relishes fallen, rotting fruits that are rich in alcohol.

I have observed this alcohol-loving behavior of the Baron, which used to be abundant near the mango tree in the compound of the office I worked in earlier. The caterpillars of the Baron feed on the leaves of the mango tree, and so will usually be found near it. The photo at the top of this post shows the Baron slurping away at a rotten mango. I took the picture below the mango tree in our office compound.

By the way, the caterpillar and pupa of the Baron are a striking green color. Believe it or not, one of these caterpillars found its way to our office gate one day, made itself at home on it, and pupated right there. Unfortunately, I could not observe the butterfly emerging from the pupa, but could see it inside through the semi-transparent pupa, wings folded neatly, looking like a fetus in its womb, ready to begin life anew.Image

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An office gate that is opened and closed dozens of times during the day is hardly an ideal location for a pupa. Maybe the caterpillar fell onto the gate from the mango tree overlooking it and developed a taste for iron.

Or maybe the mommy butterfly laid its eggs in an alcoholic haze. 🙂

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