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Butterfly Masquerade

It is not the strongest, nor the most intelligent, that will survive but those who can best manage change.  – Charles Darwin

I frequently contemplate butterflies.
This time of year gives plenty of opportunity to see and think about butterflies in all their forms, colors, and sizes.  But last week I was jolted into thinking about an aspect of butterfly life I had never considered – survival.  I had thought about the loss of a butterfly when it crosses paths with a moving vehicle but never really thought about the day-to-day survival challenges they face.
I often carry my camera with me now to capture a moment that might otherwise be lost.  Such was the case when I took it with me just to check our mailbox across the road.  I thought I might see a new wildflower in bloom or a migrating bird species.  What I ended up witnessing was the destruction of a small butterfly by a hornet.  This made me wonder about how common that was and what other predators butterflies had to try to avoid.
The research into that, and another encounter this week, brought me to all the different ploys used by butterflies to avoid being attacked and or killed.  I watched and caught the stages of approach and retreat by a bee to one of the more striking butterfly masqueraders.  The bee upon seeing the ‘eye’s move on the wings of the Common Buckeye appears to jump back from its supposed prey.
Bee approaching to attack Common Buckeye Junonia coenia
Bee continuing approach to Common Buckeye Junonia coenia
Bee Retreat from Common Buckeye Junonia coenia
Bee Retreat from Common Buckeye Junonia coenia
This butterfly successfully used its mask to deter a predator and flutter through more, many more I hope, summer days.  So what are the ways in which butterflies protect themselves?
The photographs are examples of each type of defense in butterflies.
1)  Chemical
Some larvae release chemicals that make predators think the butterfly is the same species as themselves (e.g. ants) thus avoid being eaten.  The most common form of chemical protection comes from those ingested by the larvae from host plants and passed on to the adult butterfly which make them unpalatable.
Monarch
Monarch Butterfly - Danaus plexippus
Monarch Butterfly – Danaus plexippus
Pipevine Swallowtail
Pipevine Swallowtail Battus philenor
Pipevine Swallowtail Battus philenor
Pipevine Swallowtail Battus philenor
Pipevine Swallowtail Battus philenor
2)  Mimicry
In this instance the butterflies are patterned to mimic others which are unpalatable.  Apparently predators, birds in particular, memorize those which they try to eat and find distasteful.  Because of this they avoid other butterflies that appear similar to the distasteful ones.
Spicebush Swallowtail
Spicebush Swallowtail Papilio troilus
Spicebush Swallowtail Papilio troilus
Spicebush Swallowtail Papilio troilus
Spicebush Swallowtail Papilio troilus
3)  Camouflage, Disguise, and Disruptive Coloration
All of these forms of predator avoidance rely on specific patterns that allow the butterfly to ‘disappear’ into the scenery.  This is most commonly the shape, coloring or vein patterns as in a leaf or petal.  Disruptive coloration is a particular type of camouflage using patterns or mottling for the appearance of bark or some other type of natural background.
Juvenal Duskywing
Juvenals Duskywing Erynnis juvenalis
Juvenals Duskywing Erynnis juvenalis
Clouded Sulphur
Clouded Sulphur Colias philodice
Clouded Sulphur Colias philodice
 Cloudless Sulphur
Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae
Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae
Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae
Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae
 Sleepy Orange Sulphur
Sleepy Orange Sulphur - Abaeis nicippe
Sleepy Orange Sulphur – Abaeis nicippe
 Question Mark Butterfly
Question Mark Polygonia interrogationis
Question Mark Polygonia interrogationis
Question Mark Polygonia interrogationis
Question Mark Polygonia interrogationis
4)  Flash Coloration
These butterflies flash their bright upper side in flight or sometimes while at rest but can basically ‘disappear’ when they close their wings.
Appalachian Azure
Appalachian Azure Celastrina neglectamajor
Appalachian Azure Celastrina neglectamajor
Appalachian Azure Celastrina neglectamajor
Appalachian Azure Celastrina neglectamajor
Appalachian Azure Celastrina neglectamajor
Appalachian Azure Celastrina neglectamajor
 Summer Azure
Summer Azure Celastrina neglecta
Summer Azure Celastrina neglecta
Summer Azure Celastrina neglecta
Summer Azure Celastrina neglecta
 White M Hairstreak
White M Hairstreak Parrhasius m-album
White M Hairstreak Parrhasius m-album
White M Hairstreak Parrhasius m-album
White M Hairstreak Parrhasius m-album
5)  Transparency
Eastern Yellow Tiger Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Papilio glaucus
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Papilio glaucus
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Papilio glaucus
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Papilio glaucus
Cabbage White Butterfly
Cabbage White Pieris rapae
Cabbage White Pieris rapae
Cabbage White Pieris rapae
Cabbage White Pieris rapae
 6)  Aposematic Coloration – colors or patterns that act as a warning to potential prey.  Studies have shown that many invertebrates associate green and blue with safety.  However, they react to orange, yellow, red or white as if in danger.
Monarch
Monarch Butterfly - Danaus plexippus
Monarch Butterfly – Danaus plexippus
Pipevine Swallowtail
Pipevine Swallowtail Battus philenor
Pipevine Swallowtail Battus philenor
Question Mark Butterfly
Question Mark Polygonia interrogationis
Question Mark Polygonia interrogationis
 Peck’s Skipper
Peck's Skipper Polites peckius
Peck’s Skipper Polites peckius
Peck's Skipper Polites peckius
Peck’s Skipper Polites peckius
 7)  Diematic defense
This is the use of patterns to frighten or startle potential predators.
One type of diematic defense is that of confusing patterns.  One way these are used are to put the butterfly’s wings into motion at any sign of danger which seems to cause predators to lose track of the vulnerable parts of the butterfly.  The predator may give up from confusion or pause just long enough to allow the butterfly to escape.
Eastern Yellow Tiger Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Papilio glaucus
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Papilio glaucus
Laurel Swallowtail
Laurel Swallowtail Papilio palamedes
Laurel Swallowtail Papilio palamedes
 Another version of diematic defense is the use of ocelli which is most often in the form of a pair of false-eye markings. The most common are having patterns that appear to be eyes of raptors or, if smaller patterned, snakes or lizards.   The ‘eye’ also acts as a decoy target drawing the bird to attack the wing rather than the body or head of the butterfly.  Often during the season we find butterflies with torn or tattered wings – these are most likely the survivors of attacks.
Little Wood Satyr
Little Wood Satyr Megisto cymela
Little Wood Satyr Megisto cymela
Luna Moths
Luna Moths - Actias luna
Luna Moths – Actias luna
Common Buckeye
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia
Survivors of attack
Eastern Comma Polygonia Comma
Eastern Comma Polygonia Comma
Great Spangled Fritillary Speyeria cybele
Great Spangled Fritillary Speyeria cybele
 As you watch butterflies this summer think about the challenges such fragile creatures face and your daily challenges may begin to recede in fierceness.

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