Sunday, May 1, 2011

In search of the Pawpaw Butterfly - a strange beauty

Zebra Swallowtail  (Eurytides marcellus) drinking from dung after a short rain
To start the month of May, I joined a group of Butterfly enthusiasts to search for specific species and in general to count butterfly species in one of the great national forests of East Texas, The Big Thicket National Preserve near Beaumont, Texas, a short day trip from the Houston area.  When you see the Zebra Swallowtail, (Eurytides marcellus), you have no doubt whatsoever what you have seen. It is one of the easiest butterflies to identify.  But seeing and watching are two different things with this species. With its size, it easily escapes your presence instantly with the speed of a race car and the aloof attributes of a Turkey. Often all one gets is a rather short glimpse of this species unless it is feeding. On this day we were lucky. We happened on a male feeding on dung after a rain. Yes, in order to mate effectively, the male feeds on urine, dung residue and rotten fruit to enable it to impregnate the eggs.
PawPaw plant

Pawpaw fruit

Eggs are laid on its host, the interesting Pawpaw plant, abundant in the woodlands of the south. In a butterfly count, we expect to see the Pawpaw Butterfly, but not observe it. This day we watched it for 10 minutes as it feasted on its sperm food, then it returned again and again. It posed for the camera.

A member of the Kite family - note the tail
    This large butterfly inhabits only places where species of the Pawpaw plants exist. The larvae gets important nutrients from the plant that is found throughout its life cycle other than the egg. It is believed the survival of the fittest theory plays a role in this, because the chemical nature of the plant provides a "birdicide". It wards off attacks by birds, thereby enabling it to survive in the forest.

+ Wikipedia

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