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A-Courting We Shall Go

September 9, 2019

Out of all insects, butterflies are favorites of humans for their sheer visibility and beauty. Although bees and other pollinators are getting more attention lately as parts of a healthy, functioning ecosystem, it is the colorful, scale-winged lepidopterans that have lit our imaginations for centuries.

What is not to love? They are utterly harmless to us; they are colorful and decorative, and they hang out on beautiful flowers sipping nectar and gently flapping their wings in the sun (we ignore or forgive the less-savory aspects of their behavior, including eating poop and “forced copulation” of females just emerging from their pupae).

The social lives of some butterflies can remind us of birds, with territorial males staking out prime real estate to defend from other males, while females may select mates based not on appearance or song but on their smell, territory, and courtship behavior.

Like a couple of scraps of lace dancing in a breeze, a pair of Black Swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes) engage in a brief courtship flight, swirling around one another and turning up and down before disappearing from sight. A successful dance will result in the butterflies joining to mate for up to 45 minutes before the individuals go their separate ways.

Originally published in Sycamore Greenway Friends.

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Melissa Serenda

A transplant from the suburbs of Chicago to the south side of Iowa City. I enjoy spending time on the Sycamore Greenway, picking up trash around my neighborhood, and the occasional game of cribbage.

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