Butterflies:Their Mating And Zero Tolerance Towards Polygamy

by Krishnendu K
Butterflies:Their Mating And Zero Tolerance Towards Polygamy

May 4, 2021

With their colorful wings and fluttering flight, butterflies are loved worldwide, while their other pollinating counterparts are in grave danger due to the pandemic. But, do you know that these insects often resort to ways that are opposite to their delicate appearance when it comes to mating?

It could seem that the odds are stacked against butterflies, as successful courtship relies on finding the right balance between sight, sound, smell, luck and mood. Thankfully, for most males, little else matters over their short lifetimes.

- Dr Alberto Zilli, Lepidoptera curator

How Butterflies Find Mates

Male butterflies, just like humans, resort to different modes to find their female companions. While some of them sit and wait for the love of their life to suddenly fly by, other species spend their time roaming around, area to area, scanning and searching for a receptive female.

But the search doesn’t end with just finding the right girl.

According to LiveScience, some male butterflies then try to attract the females by dancing, creating small wing-flapping movements that progressively get larger, flashing their wings in front of the female’s eyes, and spreading pheromones onto her antennas.

Male butterflies and moths can create loud acoustic signals or pulses to let nearby females know they are actively searching for a perfect match to mate with.

These pulses have the defacto added benefit of sounding threatening to any other male moths, as they mimic the noises bats make when they hunt for prey. The female then gets to choose between the males; if she doesn’t like a male, she decides to fly away.

Remember the last time your crush blocked you? Yeah, exactly that.

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Some species perform a dance before mating © Bruce Raynor/Shutterstock

Monogamy in Butterflies?

But their remarkable ways of mating don’t end here. The ladies stand to benefit by mating with more than one male as another partner can provide a health boost from the nutrients included in males’ sperm packets. Multiple mating events can increase the genetic diversity of offspring.

And to prevent another male butterfly from stealing their girl, some male butterflies go to extreme lengths. So much so that some of them even seal their mate’s genitalia with a waxy “chastity belt” to prevent future liaisons!

For example, the Monarch butterfly, one of the most recognizable and well-studied butterflies, sometimes conducts aerial takedowns. It grabs females out of the air, mating with them on the ground, and then excreting a pre-molded mating plug, which hardens on the female’s abdomen.

These plugs constrain the female from mating with another butterfly. However, experts have found evidence that the female, in some cases, successfully fights back the male butterflies by evolving larger or more complex organs that are tougher to plug.

The battle continues with the losing sex evolving to adaptations to counter the winner’s strategies. Who knew these innocent-looking butterflies could be possessive and territorial too?

Coloured wings are a signal to other butterflies. They allow insects to recognise their own species in a complicated habitat. Colours also distinguish between males and females - vital when you are looking for a partner.

- Dr Alberto Zilli, Lepidoptera curator
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Males are frequently rejected by picky partners, and being determined in the face of refusal is vital. Only the luckiest butterflies are successful on the first attempt

Shortly after butterflies come out from their chrysalises to become adults, their search for mating partners begins; different butterflies often resort to other ways of finding mates. Once the mating happens, some butterflies resort to unique and often aggressive ways to enforce female monogamy.

It is safe to say that nature never ceases to capture human attention with awe. 

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