What is this Butterfly Doing?

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

You’re hiking a trail, like this one, and you come upon a damp stretch of the trail, like this one. You pause, and see several butterflies ahead of you, all doing what this one is doing. One here, another there, all doing just about the same thing. Get closer and you see what they are doing. They are focused, and some of them have lowered their usual hysteria thresholds, enabling you to get really close to them. That’s weird, because most of the time, these same butterflies won’t allow you within 20 feet of them.

Comes the Question? What is this Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly doing? Resist saying that it is drinking water. There is a small stream just 18 feet from it, and that water is cool, clear and abundant. Don’t go with the butterfly is eating. Butterflies eat nectar and some consume scat (animal feces). There’s none of that there. No, there is no social aspect to this behavior. Let’s offer a hint:

Butterflies spend a good deal of time flying. Males often fly for hours, with short periods of rest. The Super Bowl is days away (The US football grand season finale). During the Super Bowl, if one of the players participates in play after play after play, his coach may take him out of the game for several minutes, to allow his body to rest, to intake liquids, and permit his body to do some quick internal repair. He is working like an overworked machine, and needs some equivalent of preventative maintenance. Back into the game he goes . . .

This male butterfly has been flying from about 8:45 A.M. until this photo was taken at 10:50 A.M.. This sustained flying time causes some muscle stress. That muscle stress results in damage to protein in those muscle cells. Ready to remove and replace those damaged proteins, the butterfly’s life systems realize that they need the minerals that are critical parts of muscle cell proteins. They don’t spend a millisecond stymied by how to find the mineral elements. They always get them from the same place, from the moisture  from wet trails. Equipped anew with iron, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, etc., they again have the ingredients to construct fresh, new protein molecules; to rebuild overexercised wing muscle and to fly again. Fly to find food, find mates, find shelter, and to flee when Jeff comes hurtling down the trail, whistling loudly, thanking G-d for all.

Limenitis arthemis astyanax. Beautiful, No?


4 thoughts on “What is this Butterfly Doing?

  1. Awesome post!!!

    I have a photo almost exactly like this one (which honestly, makes me feel so good about myself today)! I mean, really, just like Yours, Jeff!) :)

    I also love your post because the butterfly is a teacher to me and today, it sure seems like I have learned what I need to do, which is exactly what this butterfly is doing. Rest, find minerals and rejuvenate!

    Thanks for sharing, as always, and my thanks to the butterfly for this important lesson.



  2. Jeff, thank you for this explanation of butterfly behavior that I have seen during the summer while on walks, I always wondered why butterflies lie open winged and motionless on the ground rather than resting on a pretty flower. I had assumed they were injured.


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