Red Admiral Butterfly with wings folded, resembling tree bark.
Birds are an adult butterfly’s number one enemy and over millennia, butterflies have evolved many different strategies to avoid being eaten.
Monarch Butterfly and Tropical Milkweed
Some butterflies, like Monarchs, taste terrible, because the caterpillar’s food plant milkweed has toxic and foul tasting substances. The Monarch caterpillar has evolved to withstand the poisonous milky sap, but a bird that attempts to eat the caterpillar may become ill, and even die. The vivid black, yellow, and white stripes of the caterpillar, along with the brilliant orange and black wing pattern of the adult butterfly, are forms of aposematic coloring. Their bright colors warn of danger to would be predators.
Great Spangled Fritillary with iridescent spots.
The wings of other butterflies, like the Great Spangled Fritillary and Blue Morpho, are patterned with iridescent scales. The iridescence creates little flashes of light when in flight, which confuses predatory birds.
The friendly Red Admiral employs the strategy of mimicry for protection from birds. When its wings are folded, the butterfly is perfectly camouflaged against the bark of a tree trunk. And if that isn’t protection enough, the outer margins of the wings resemble splodges of bird poop!
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Have you ever had a butterfly land on your arm? It was probably a Red Admiral. The word friendly is often used to describe these beautiful butterflies but, it isn’t really friendship they are wanting. Red Admirals are attracted to the salt in your perspiration and will alight to have a sip of sweat.
Beautiful to you and I, the large concentric circles strategically located on the wings of the Buckeye are meant to mimic the eyes of a larger creature. The eye patterns, or eyespots, frighten away would-be predators, mainly, hungry birds snipping at butterfly wings.
Many species of Lepidoptera have eyespots both in the adult and caterpillar stages, but butterflies and moths aren’t the only creatures that have evolved with eye-like markings. Reptiles, wild cats, fish, and birds also have eyespots.
Peacocks have very conspicuous eyespots, not to mimic and frighten, but to attract a peahen. The greater the number of “eyes,” the more desirable the male is to the female.
The Foureye Butterflyfish, like butterflies, have eyespots located away from the more vulnerable head region; its eye markings are at the tail end.
Foureye Butterflyfish are found in the Western Atlantic, from Massachusetts and Bermuda to the West Indies and northern South America. Photo courtesy wiki commons media.
Over the course of the many years documenting Monarchs, I often encounter the beautiful Buckeye during the end of the summer. Common Buckeyes migrate every year, departing our most southern states in the spring, repopulating the northern states on their way; in some years even reaching as far north as southern Canada. In the fall, Buckeyes return south as they are not adapted to survive northern winters. The Common Buckeye is most attracted to yellow flowers. Look for them drinking nectar at Seaside Goldenrod and the yellow florets at the center of New England and Purple-stemmed Asters. Common Buckeye and Painted Lady, Fall Migration 2017
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Thank you so very much for your kind generosity and help in completing and bringing Beauty on the Wing to classrooms and theaters.
MY DEEPEST THANKS AND APPRECIATION TO LAUREN MERCADANTE (PRODUCER), SUSAN FREY (PRODUCER), NEW ENGLAND BIOLABS FOUNDATION, BOB AND JAN CRANDALL, MARY WEISSBLUM, SHERMAN MORSS, JAY FEATHERSTONE, JUNI VANDYKE, MARION F., ELAINE M., KIMBERLY MCGOVERN, MEGAN HOUSER (PRIDES CROSSING), JIM VANBUSKIRK (PITTSBURGH) NANCY MATTERN (ALBUQUERQUE), DONNA STOMAN, PEGGY O’MALLEY, JOEY C., CATHERINE RYAN, JOEANN HART, JANE PAZNIK BONDARIN (NEW YORK), ROBERT REDIS (NEW YORK), NUBAR ALEXANIAN, PETER VAN DEMARK, PATRICIA VAN DERPOOL, FRED FREDERICKS (CHELMSFORD), LESLIE HEFFRON, JIM MASCIARELLI, DAVE MOORE (KOREA), LILIAN AND CRAIG OLMSTEAD, JOHN STEIGER, PAT DALPIAZ, AMY KERR, BARBARA T. (JEWETT, NY), ROBERTA C. ((NY), MARIANNE G. (WINDHAM, NY), PAULA RYAN O’BRIEN (WALTON, NY), MARTHA SWANSON, KIM TEIGER, JUDITH FOLEY (WOBURN), PATTI SULLIVAN, RONN FARREN, SUSAN NADWORNY (MELROSE), DIANE LINDQUIST (MANCHESTER), HEIDI SHRIVER (PENNSYLVANIA), JENNIFER CULLEN, TOM HAUCK, AND ANONYMOUS PERSONS FOR THEIR GENEROUS HELP.