Sunday, August 30, 2009

Courtship of a pair of Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

This fairytale is my own of the Southeast Texas forest. One of our prize sightings here in The Woodlands and nearby parks and forests is the Swallowtail. This particular species, the Giant Swallowtail or Papilio cresphontes, is very prevalent at this time of the year in our area, that is, if we are not spraying for mosquitoes. This story is based on an actual courtship in Mercer's Arboretum on Cypress Creek. The photographs are from an observservation on a morning in late August.  These butterflies have quite a strong courtship that lasts for hours. I recommend viewing the large version photographs by clicking on each one. Hope you enjoy this in the context of a child's fairy tale...

Once upon a time, there was a lovely seƱorita butterfly called Bella. She was named that by her father who knew that some day she would be the most beautiful and grand butterfly in the park. When she grew up, she indeed was very beautiful. Her colors were outstanding. All the boys watched her when she flew through the forest. She would sail past  trees with lightening speed to find the right flower which would give her the sweetest nectar to drink. Each time she drank her nectar, she would think, my food is just as sweet as I am, that is what my mom says. So I must act my part to be sweet as well as beautiful.
Also about the same time as she was born, there was this guy butterfly called Handsome. He learned to dance in the air and do all sorts of acrobatics in the air from his dad. He admired his dad and wanted to grow up to be just like him. Yes, he did just that. Now he is a grand butterfly, admired throughout the park for his ability to fly and for his bright colors. He knows which flowers makes him safe and which flowers make him more handsome.  You can see in these photos that he is not much different than Bella.

Both Handsome and Bella have two sets of wings and use them like two arms. They can do amazing things with their wings. They can push the back wing down so that they do cartwheels or flips in the air. Handsome does especially good with that maneuver.

One day they met in the park and instantly liked each other. In this picture, they are meeting each other. "Hey, my name is Handsome. I've seen you around here. What's up?" Bella responds, "Nothing much. I've seen you too. What's up with you?" Then Handsome did a mid-air flip in joy, because Bella seemed to like him too!  When Handsome and Bella got to know each other better, Bella liked how many things Handsome knew about safety of foods and eating correctly. She also admired his skills in flying, especially his ability to do somersaults. Handsome liked Bella's gracious style. She glides though the air like a princess. She can change direction with ease. So Handsome thought to himself. "Bella would make a great wife and mother for my children." She would be the person for him all his life. How can he get her to say yes to marriage? - he thought. She will like him if he just is himself and dedicates his energy to her and takes good care of her. Little did he know that Bella was asking the same question. She  said, "how can I get  Handsome really interested in me? I want to get to know him.  I think he would be a great father for my children."   Handsome said, "Hey Bella, you want to hang out?" Bella said, "well maybe."
So Bella flew like a jet in the sky and soared to show handsome that she was pleased that he asked.  That surprised Handsome. He could not keep up! She came back. "Why are you so slow?", she asked.

Handsome had the right answer. He said, "I do acrobats best. You soar so beautifully. I know why your mom called you "Bella". Watch this. I bet you can't do this as good as I can! So Bella watched with great admiration as Handsome turned flips in the air with the skill of a great butterfly!   

So they hung out together and got to know each other very very well. They learned about each others family, what kind of flowers each other liked the best,  what they would like for the other to do for them, and many other things.

After a while, they both decided that they had made the right choice and were ready to have a family.
They played together and enjoyed being with each other.
It was time to have baby butterflies. And soon that would happen. They would have little caterpillars. When the caterpillars left the house, they out be out in the world on their own.

Then they got married and had children. Bella laid eggs under a leaf and built a house for the eggs.

And they lived happily together forever after in the great East Texas forest system.

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