Posted by: cochinblogger | November 30, 2019

Butterflies in Trouble

I nearly stepped on it before I saw it lying on the ground near the gates of my house. It was an unusual place for a butterfly to alight on, the concrete floor with grooves along which the iron wheels of the external gates rolled. Was it dead? It wasn’t moving, but it was upright, and the wings were not limp but held aloft. Yes, it was alive, but motionless. My first thought was that a bird had caught it and then discarded it, injuring it in the process. I bent over to see if the wings were injured. No, the wings were intact — and at that moment, they fluttered weakly. There was no sign of injury on the butterfly (a male Great Eggfly, I think).
And then I saw them — the ants! There were a couple of them on the butterfly’s body, but whatever was preventing the butterfly from flying away probably had something to with the two ants in front of the butterfly’s head and almost touching it. I don’t want to think about what they were doing to the butterfly, though they did not move. Had they grabbed the butterfly’s proboscis? Or had they paralyzed it with stings? The ants and the butterfly appeared to be locked close together eyeball to eyeball, in a life-and-death staring match.

I picked up the butterfly and placed it on a wall. Perhaps that would help? No, the ants rode along with the butterfly, and the butterfly did not fly away as I’d hoped it would. I then did something rather silly: I blew on the butterfly, hoping to scatter the ants. Instead, the butterfly dropped out of sight on the other side of the wall, taking the ants with it. I continued on my way. Undoubtedly the ants would have finished it off.

I once saw a butterfly trapped in a spider’s web. It was a large butterfly, a Common Bluebottle, and it had almost struggled free. A lone strand of silk attached to the tip of one wing was all that prevented it from flying away. The small spider did not dare approach the much larger butterfly and crouched in its corner of the web, watching intently, waiting for the butterfly to weaken from its incessant struggles to free itself. It was my first ever butterfly close-up photo. My previous attempts to get close to them had not succeeded, much to my frustration. I wondered if I should free the butterfly, save Beauty from the Beast, but instead decided to let Nature sort it out. In the photo below, you can see the strand of spider web attached to the topmost point of the butterfly’s upper wing.

A little later when I returned to the spot, the butterfly had made good its escape.

And that brings me to the most dramatic predation on a butterfly that I have witnessed. I was out looking for butterflies during the lunch break at work when I spotted a butterfly wing lying on the leaf of a plant at an unusual angle. It wasn’t moving. When I approached to investigate, I came upon an extraordinary scene: a praying mantis had grabbed the butterfly (a Common Crow) and was eating it alive. I watched in horror as inch by inch, the butterfly disappeared, head first, inside the ravenous maw of the insect (photo below). All that was left of the butterfly was a few bits and pieces on the leaf, as the mantis, feast complete, licked its forelegs and resumed its praying stance on the plant.

And why not? After all, its prayers had just been answered.

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