|Eastern Tiger Swallowtail males puddling|
The butterflies pictured above and below are male Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus), one of the most common butterflies enjoying the warming weather this time of year and they only have one thing on their mind, finding a suitable mate. Male Tiger Swallowtails are usually solitary but break that habit during the mating season for a particular behavior called 'puddling'. It's not uncommon during the spring season to see large groups of butterflies along the road or woodland edges huddled around a mud puddle or pothole, especially those belonging to the Swallowtail family (Papilionidae). Young males congregate around these mud puddles, dung and carrion in order to extract the salts, minerals and amino acids from the soil to aid them in reproduction.
|Tiger Swallowtail feeding on Liatris spicata|
Butterflies get most of their daily nutrition from nectar of various flowering plants but have additional nutritional needs during mating. Once consuming the salts and minerals, they are stored in the males sperm which is then transferred to females upon copulation. In turn, this improves the viability of the newly laid eggs and aids the offspring in their first steps of life.
|Tiger Swallowtail feeding on Vernonia gigantea|
Perhaps this exchange of salts and minerals is the equivalence of a diamond ring as a nuptial gift in the butterfly world. If this is the case I certainly envy the male Tiger Swallowtail in his very frugal ability to show his 'love' for his mate! There are so many aspects to our natural world that we overlook and don't take the time to see on a daily basis, with the spring puddling of butterflies as just one of a million examples. So next time you are driving down the road or walking through the woods and see a large gathering of butterflies around a pool of muddy water take the time to admire them for their beauty and their drive to perpetuate their species and genetics in the best means possible.