Saturday, July 7, 2012

Butterflies as Big as Birds!

Last Monday on a trip to Renews, it was a bit of a challenge to stir up a few birds, but butterflies were in our faces at every turn.
 Not just the usual Tiger Swallowtails, but Short-tailed Swallowtails, Red Admirals and others I'm sure I missed with my head lofted upward.
It is a delight to watch the butterflies at any time, but there seemed to have been an unusual invasion last week that meant they were darting and wafting in every direction. More than once, I looked thinking I was seeing a bird, only to find a butterfly.

There was no mistaking the main event of the day was the Monarch Butterflies.  This is not a very common sight in Newfoundland during most years, but this year - on that day, on Bear Cove Point Road, there were hundreds of them!

When we reached the point, we were eager to see what sea bird activity was going on just over the cliff. Despite my pull to the edge, I was totally distracted when these two Monarchs flew by - attached to one another.
Maybe this is where the phrase "hooked up" originated. They were indeed one, and I knew they couldn't stay airborne very long like that.
I followed them until they landed in the clover, and much to my surprise, in came another to join the foray.
It became pretty clear that butterflies are not monogamous.  It seems the male will leave a filmy substance on the female that will prevent her from mating with other males. Now, this threesome leaves me wondering, are these two males and one female?  The last male to mate with her, if he gets the chance, will leave a barrier which will protect his sperm and provide a greater opportunity for his DNA to be passed on to a new generation.
What will come of all of these eggs that will be laid here? When the female lays the eggs they need ideal weather and humidity conditions in order to survive.  If it is too wet, the eggs will rot or be attacked by fungus. If it is too hot, the eggs will dry out.  Butterflies lay a lot of eggs, but many do not survive.  The eggs are often laid on the underside of a plant leaf suitable for feeding by the caterpillars as soon as they are hatched. These eggs often don't survive due to other predator insects.
I have no idea how long it takes for a new butterfly to emerge. However, if there was ever a summer to promote successful butterfly production, it is this year.  It will be interesting to see how constant the butterfly activity is over the weeks to come.


  1. The Black Swallowtails are actually Short-tailed Swallowtail!
    ST Swallowtail is pretty much endemic to Newfoundland and the maritime provinces! Interesting that they seem to also be booming in population even though they're regular butterflies.

    Amazing that you saw 100s of Monarchs! I've only seen about 5 on the island.

  2. I will make the correction on the Short-tailed Butterfly above. Thank you for your comment.