Peacock butterfly in the sunshine, video


This 11 April 2019 video is about a peacock butterfly, flapping its wings in the spring sunshine. Peacock butterflies winter in hiding places. Now, in spring, they are visible again.

Jeroen Langbroek in the Netherlands made this video.

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Butterfly species at Panama bird feeder


This 20 March 2019 video says about itself:

Panama Fruit Feeder: Butterfly Visits – March 2019

Here is a look at some of our recent butterfly visitors!

Watch LIVE 24/7 with highlights and viewing resources at http://allaboutbirds.org/panamafeeders

The Panama Fruit Feeder Cam is a collaboration between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Canopy Family, and explore.org.

Also featuring squirrels and a clay-coloured thrush.

Botanical garden flowers, birds, butterfly


Snowdrops, 23 February 2019

This 23 February 2019 photo shows snowdrops in the botanical garden in Leiden, the Netherlands.

On that day, we heard great spotted woodpecker, greenfinch, great tit and rose-ringed parakeet sounds there.

On the roof of the garden’s eighteenth century orangery, a herring gull. Growing up its wall, a Maule’s quince plant. Famous naturalist Von Siebold brought this plant, the oldest Maule’s quince in the Netherlands, from Japan in the nineteenth century.

Under the Gingko biloba tree, flowers of snowdrops and crocuses. And of giant butterbur: also a plant first brought here by Von Siebold.

The axolotls are no longer in their terrarium in the hothouse. Given away, as caring for them was too complex.

The giant Australian stick insects are still in the other hothouse, but difficult to spot. The inhabitants are still present in the two hothouse aquariums, one for small fish, the other one for bigger fish; but the signs naming the species are gone. As the species sometimes change, probably the new signs are not ready yet.

Yellow crocuses, 23 February 2019

Not far from the hothouses, these yellow crocuses; attracting honeybees.

Edgeworthia tomentosa, 23 February 2019

And these orangeish-yellow Edgeworthia tomentosa flowers; with a palm tree in the background.

Scores of jackdaws fly overhead, calling.

Purple crocus flowers, 23 February 2019

On the hill near the source of the stream, these purple crocuses, besides many winter aconite flowers.

Siberian squill, 23 February 2019

And these Siberian squill flowers.

In the canal, a swimming moorhen.

On a branch next to the canal, a female chaffinch.

In the pond, a juvenile grey heron tries to catch fish. Someone saw the first pondskater of the Netherlands in 2019 this week, but I don’t see any in the stream here yet.

Blue morpho, 23 February 2019

Finally, to the Victoria amazonica hothouse; where we saw this blue morpho butterfly from its non-blue side.

Stay tuned, as on 24 February, we went back to the botanical garden!

Viceroy butterfly mimicry, new study


This video from the USA says about itself:

Short video shows some of the similarities as well as differences between Monarch and Viceroy butterflies. Filmed late in the summer of 2015 in Norman Co. Mn.

From the University of Arizona in the USA:

A tasty Florida butterfly turns sour

February 22, 2019

Summary: A 15-year study by entomologists found that, when living apart from the unsavory bug it mimics, the viceroy butterfly becomes yucky, making biologists rethink old theories about animal mimicry.

The viceroy butterfly is a mimic, modeling its orange-and-black colors after the queen butterfly, a bug that tastes so disgusting predators have learned not to eat it or anything that looks like it, including viceroys. The apparent dependence of mimics on their models made biologists wonder if the fates of the two species are forever intertwined. If so, then what happens when the mimic and the model part ways?

A study recently published in Communications Biology and led by Katy Prudic, an assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona, has found an interesting answer. Viceroy butterflies living in northern Florida, far away from the southern-dwelling queen butterflies, are not only more abundant than their southern kin, but they have also developed their own foul flavor.

“In classical mimicry theory, we wouldn’t predict that the viceroy butterfly would be able to stay or be in northern Florida. It should be limited to southern Florida, where the queens live,” Prudic said.

The classical theory, called Batesian mimicry, posits that one animal, known as the mimic, looks like another animal — the model that predators recognize as “unpalatable”. An unpleasant experience trying to munch on the model species convinces predators to avoid both species, since they cannot reliably tell the difference between the two.

If the butterflies followed Batesian mimicry, populations of viceroys living in regions where predators had never met the unpalatable queens would not recognize the orange color of the butterfly as something awful; it would look like a delicious, easy-to-find snack, and predators would pick off the viceroy.

Yet Prudic’s study found that the viceroy thrives where the queen is not found, because it has evolved the ability to taste bad.

“Have you ever chewed aspirin?” Prudic said. “It will not kill you, but you may want to die because it will be really, really unpleasant.”

Prudic’s study began more than 15 years ago, as part of her doctoral dissertation. Prudic and her co-author, UA data science specialist Jeff Oliver, counted viceroy and queen butterflies and their host plants at eight sites across Florida.

All over Florida, the viceroy caterpillar feeds on the same kind of plant: the Carolina willow. The tree arms itself against pests with phenolic glycosides, chemical relatives of aspirin.

To pests, the aspirin-related toxins may be deadly, but caterpillars have evolved ways to avoid being poisoned by the plants. By possibly storing them in fatty bodies, viceroy caterpillars keep the chemicals out of their metabolic processes, and they live unharmed.

When the viceroy lives alongside its model species, it likely discards the toxins when it metamorphoses from caterpillar to butterfly. But Prudic and her team found that when the mimic lives independently from the queen butterfly, it keeps the toxins, making the viceroy unpalatable to predators.

In a pharmacology lab, UA Regents’ Professor Barbara Timmerman helped Prudic investigate how much of the aspirin-related chemical could be found in the viceroy butterflies. These results were then compared to the abundance of queens at the capture sites.

The second experiment was to test the viceroys’ chemical defenses against predators. The butterflies were fed to praying mantids that had been hand-reared in the lab, and Prudic studied how they reacted to the butterflies. The mantids had a much stronger response to viceroys originating from those places where there were not any queens.

“They learned to avoid these viceroys faster, and remembered to avoid them for longer,” Prudic said.

Years of rigorous statistical analysis followed, so that Prudic and her team could be certain about the relationship between the unpalatability of viceroy butterflies and the abundance of queen butterflies.

A mimicry continuum

This discovery changes the way biologists must think about mimicry.

The relationship between viceroy and queen butterflies once fell into the Batesian mimicry category, but when one of Prudic’s co-authors, David Ritland, first discovered that viceroys had the ability to be nasty, the butterflies’ relationship was recategorized as “Mullerian.” There are no models in this mimicry theory, only “co-mimics:” two different animals that look the same and are both unpalatable.

But Prudic’s study proves that the viceroy butterfly does not fit neatly into either mimicry category.

“Both these categories that we thought about in mimicry are now coming together, and we are thinking more about a continuum between Batesian and Mullerian,” Prudic said.

She expects that such a continuum is not limited to just the viceroy-queen system; however, studies that deeply investigate mimicry relationships are unusual because they are time-consuming, labor-intensive and difficult to execute.

Aside from proving that mimicry in the animal world cannot be sorted into a simple binary, this study may be helpful for conservation and management of species in the changing world.

“It gives us predictive power to understand where critters will be, that they are not restrained to just where their models are.”

Butterfly in winter in England


How butterflies choose mates


This 28 March 2018 video says about itself:

The Remarkable Way that Butterflies Mate

Did you know butterflies mate while facing away from each other?

From PLOS:

Butterflies are genetically wired to choose a mate that looks just like them

February 7, 2019

Male butterflies have genes which give them a sexual preference for a partner with a similar appearance to themselves, according to new research. In a study publishing February 7th in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, a team of academics from the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, observed the courtship rituals and sequenced the DNA from nearly 300 butterflies to find out how much of the genome was responsible for their mating behavior.

This is one of the first ever genome studies to look at butterfly behavior and it unlocks the secrets of evolution to help explain how new species are formed. The scientists sequenced the DNA from two different species of Heliconius butterflies which live either side of the Andes mountains in Colombia. Heliconians have evolved to produce their own cyanide which makes them highly poisonous and they have distinct and brightly colored wings which act as a warning to would-be predators.

Professor Chris Jiggins of the University of Cambridge, one of the lead authors on the paper, said: “There has previously been lots of research done on finding genes for things like color patterns on the butterfly wing, but it’s been more difficult to locate the genes that underlie changes in behavior.

“What we found was surprisingly simple — three regions of the genome explain a lot of their behaviors. There’s a small region of the genome that has some very big effects.”

The male butterflies were introduced to female butterflies of two species and were scored for their levels of sexual interest directed towards each. The scientists rated each session based on the number of minutes of courtship by the male — shown by sustained hovering near or actively chasing the females.

Unlike many butterflies which use scented chemical signals to identify a mate, Heliconians use their long-range vision to locate the females, which is why it’s important each species has distinct wing markings.

When a hybrid between the two species was introduced, the male would most commonly show a preference for a mate with similar markings to itself. The research showed the same area of the genome that controlled the coloration of the wings was responsible for defining a sexual preference for those same wing patterns.

Dr Richard Merrill, one of the authors of the paper, based at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, said: “It explains why hybrid butterflies are so rare — there is a strong genetic preference for similar partners which mostly stops inter-species breeding. This genetic structure promotes long-term evolution of new species by reducing intermixing with others.”

The paper is one of two publishing together in PLOS Biology; the second study investigated how factors — including mate preference — act to prevent genetic mixing between the same two species of butterfly. They discovered that despite the rarity of hybrid butterflies — as a result of their reluctance to mate with one another — a surprisingly large amount of DNA has been shared between the species through hybridization. There has been ten times more sharing between these butterfly species than occurred between Neanderthals and humans.

Dr Simon Martin, one of the authors of the second paper, from the University of Edinburgh, explained: “Over a million years a very small number of hybrids in a generation is enough to significantly reshape the genomes of these butterflies.”

Despite this genetic mixing, the distinct appearance and behaviors of the two species remain intact, and have not become blended. The researchers found that there are many areas of the genome that define each species, and these are maintained by natural selection, which weeds out the foreign genes. In particular, the part of the genome that defines the sex of the butterflies is protected from the effects of inter-species mating.

As with the genetics that control mating behavior, these genes enable each butterfly type to maintain its distinctiveness and help ensure long-term survival of the species.

But can the findings translate into other species, including humans? Professor Jiggins said: “In terms of behavior, humans are unique in their capacity for learning and cultural changes, but our behavior is also influenced by our genes. Studies of simpler organisms such as butterflies can shed light on how our own behavior has evolved. Some of the patterns of gene sharing we see between the butterflies have also been documented in comparisons of the human and Neanderthal genomes, so there is another link to our own evolution.”

“Next we would like to know how novel behavior can arise and what kind of genetic changes you need to alter behavior. We already know that you can make different wing patterns by editing the genes. These studies suggest that potentially new behaviors could come about by putting different genes together in new combinations.”

Pollinating butterflies need forests


This 2016 video shows butterflies in Sweden, including a comma butterfly, drinking a birch tree’s sap.

From Linköping University in Sweden:

Butterflies thrive in grasslands surrounded by forest

February 1, 2019

For pollinating butterflies, it is more important to be close to forests than to agricultural fields, according to a study of 32,000 butterflies by researchers at Linköping University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Uppsala. The results provide important knowledge about how to plan and manage the landscape to ensure the survival of butterflies.

Semi-natural grasslands are one of Sweden’s most species-rich habitats, with a multitude of plants and butterflies. However, the amount of such areas has been reduced by 90% in the past 100 years. Semi-natural grasslands are often preserved as just small fragments in the landscape. Their loss has led to many species of butterfly being decimated, and in some cases eliminated from parts of Sweden. The researchers who carried out the new study, published in the scientific journal Landscape Ecology, have investigated how the landscape around these fragments influences different species of butterfly in southern Sweden. A total of 32,000 butterflies from 77 species were found.

“Several of our results are really exciting, and demonstrate that the species richness of semi-natural grasslands is influenced by other factors than the properties of the grasslands themselves. The surrounding landscape is also important for butterflies. If the semi-natural grasslands are embedded within large regions of arable land, the number of species is reduced,” says Karl-Olof Bergman, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, IFM.

The species richness of butterflies was in general greater in locations where large areas of semi-natural grasslands lay within 10-20 kilometres around the studied semi-natural grassland. Another important landscape feature linked to a larger number of butterfly species was if the grasslands were surrounded by forest.

“Forests have habitats that butterfly can use, such as forest edges, power lines, forestry tracks, glades and cleared areas. Together with semi-natural grasslands, forests can be used to create landscapes that butterflies thrive in. Agricultural fields, in contrast, seem to have few resources that the butterflies can use, and the resources that are available benefit only a few species,” says Karl-Olof Bergman.

Different species of butterfly reacted differently to the surrounding landscape. Some species were sensitive to the immediate vicinity, while others were influenced by the composition of the surrounding landscape further away from the semi-natural grasslands.

“These results are important if we are to preserve the butterflies and other pollinators in the countryside, and create and preserve landscape that enables them to survive. The most species-rich regions for butterflies in southern Sweden are those that still have relatively large areas of semi-natural grasslands, principally in eastern Sweden including parts of Östergötland. It is important that these habitats are preserved,” says Karl-Olof Bergman.

The study used data about butterflies from NILS, the National Inventory of Landscapes in Sweden. The research has been financed by, among other bodies, WWF Sweden, the Formas research council, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and the Swedish Board of Agriculture.