But First the Courtship
Have you seen the courtships or butterflies mating?
Regardless of which species visit your gardens, watch for some courting.
It may be dancing in the air or on the ground.
Rituals that your flying flowers employ before the process of reproduction.
Most males will use one of two strategies for finding a suitable mate.
Perching or patrolling.
Some males, such as those of the American lady (Vanessa virginiensis) and the Gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus ) perch on an open branch and wait for their lady love to pass by.
Other males, such as those of the Tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) and the Spring azure (Celastrina ladon), actively patrol an area, searching for a receptive gal.
Butterflies mating is serious business.
When the male butterfly recognizes a female of his own species, he quickly pursues her and begins
the rituals of courtship.
You may think butterfly dances are acts of aggression, as males attempt to drive one another away.
Or, is it a courtship dance?
The prelude to mating.
There is nothing more delicate to watch in the butterfly world than a courting pair of sulphurs circling upward into the sky.
Another part of butterfly mating is a nuptial dance on the ground.
Many a male tries to entice the female to mate with this special dance.
Unreceptive females, including those that have
already mated or are the wrong species will signal that they are unavailable by spreading their wings and raising their abdomen high, making coupling impossible.
Mating starts as the two attach themselves by the tips of their abdomens.
The male begins to mate with a female, a set of "claspers" at the end of the abdomen will open and clamp down on the female's abdomen.
Butterflies mate facing in opposite directions with their abdomens attached.
The penis enters the female at the same location where the eggs come out.
When the male releases, the semen enters a small storage pouch inside the females abdomen, called a spermathecae.
Often the male carries the female around, but not always.
With mating, males mate numerous times during their short lives.
Most females mate only once.
After doing their thing, the female embarks on a mission.
The search for the proper
host plant on which to deposit her eggs.
After butterflies mating, the female has about 100 eggs inside her and a pouch full of the male spermatozoa.
When ready to deposit her eggs, she will perform a kind of self-fertilization.
When she places an egg on the host-plant, the egg passes out of her ovipositor, it will pass this pouch.
At that instant, one spermatozoa will fertilize the egg and determine its sex.
When the egg is first placed on the leaf, it was fertilized less than a second before.
The fact that the female has the ability to decide when to lay the eggs is an interesting and important point.
Since the eggs are deposited on the host plant, the female is able to pick the most favorable spot to lay her eggs.
If she did not have this self-fertilization ability, she would be forced to lay her eggs all at once.
Possibly jeopardizing the health of some of her offspring.
A typical female butterfly will lay about 100 eggs in her lifetime.
Some species lay their eggs gregariously (in clusters).
Other species lay their eggs individually on widely dispersed plants.
Nature has provided for whatever works for the survival of the species.
Of the 100 or so eggs that may be laid, only 2% is expected to survive to become healthy adult butterflies mating to continue the cycle.
The other 98% will fall by the wayside in the course of their development as eggs, larvae, pupae and emerging adults.
The reasons for this high mortality rate are several.
The most important causes include climatic conditions (wind, drought and rain); diseases caused by virus and bacteria; and predators.
You've watched butterflies mating, now test your powers of observation.
Watch the female as she looks for host plants.
Can you find her eggs?
Butterfly eggs vary in color and size with species.
A monarch's eggs are considered large at 1.2 mm long and 0.9 mm wide.
In contrast, the eggs of skippers are 0.1 mm long and 0.1 mm wide.
A simple inexpensive hand help magnifying glass can help you locate butterfly eggs.
Watching butterflies mating singles the beginning of the end for adult butterflies.
And the cycle repeats itself all over again.
There is More than Butterflies Mating, Return to the Main butterfly page
Butterfly Garden Design
A Butterfly Friendly Garden
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A butterfly needs protection and the proper plants to lay eggs.
Learn more on Gardening for Wildlife.
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