Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Puddles and Butterflies

Not only is spring the return of my beloved flowering plants but also many other lovely aspects to our natural world.  The migrating birds return from their neo-tropical wintering vacation homes to raise another brood, the trees break bud, unveiling their new leaves and the air is once again filled with butterflies flittering about the warming breezes.  Ohio is home to dozens and dozens of species of butterflies and moths from the order of insects known as Lepidoptera, and boy do they come in all shapes and sizes.  From the huge, unmistakeable Luna Moths (Actias luna) to the tiny Skippers (Hesperiidae) and everything in-between, you don't have to look too hard or far to find one of these guys taking to the skies looking for its next nectar meal.

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.


  1. So you would rather suck the salt from a horse turd than buy a diamond ring? I'm laughing and couldn't help but tease you a bit. This is a wonderful and informative post Andrew.

  2. Hahaha! Oh, Tricia...I really laughed out loud at that one, thanks! You know though...I really may prefer to do that than shell out the cash for a piece of compressed coal :)

  3. ...you have lovely photos of the butterflies puddling. Last summer in Shawnee Matty and I saw a spectacular mass of butterflies puddling...I'd never seen so many in my life. It was outrageous, and we loved it!

  4. Great photographs. I haven't seen a Swallowtail butterfly before, but hope to when I get traveling next year.

    Rob @ http://naturalhistorybookshelf.com/

  5. i have only seen a few so far, but love to watch these flying flowers.

  6. Tricia, you're a hoot! Anyway, lovely post, Andrew. I thought LAST year was a good year for butterflies - it seems this year is going to be spectacular for them!