The first rule of Flight Club is that butterflies are beautiful little jerks
Hopefully, you're already helping our local butterflies by planting native plants like monarchs' favorite milkweed, because butterflies could use your help, in more ways than one.
As symbols, butterflies are a touch angelic. Their colorful wings sectioned by black veins into brightly-hued cells evoke stained glass, while their connection to springtime renewal and vividly transformational life cycles connect them with lofty notions like spiritual rebirth, hope, and transformation. Of course, butterflies are part of the natural world and have developed strategies to get through the day that we might consider less than savory. For instance, while few animals are as symbolically loaded as butterflies, some of these stunning insects like getting figuratively loaded too.
That’s right, butterflies, those sweetly floating dabs of color, enjoy getting a little tipsy. Not all butterflies indulge. Fermented fruit feeders are a common sight at the Pavilion: butterflies like blue morphos, gray crackers, Mexican bluewings, and red admirals are all regulars.
Red admirals (Vanessa atalanta) hibernate through the winter, so they make sure to get as much sugar as possible from things like over-ripe (i.e., fermenting) fruit. If they let you get a little closer than most butterflies, you might blame it on the alcohol, more specifically the ethanol, which the sugar in fruit partly converts to. Look for them crowding around the all-you-can-drink fruit bar enjoying a fermented fruit cocktail.
Butterflies aren’t just getting a little buzzed. These symbols of peace can also be unexpectedly violent.
BEAUTIFUL BUT BELLIGERENT
A recent study showed that monarch caterpillars, those plump and stripy voracious milkweed devourers, show signs of aggression when food gets scarce. These little guys actually headbutt each other with surprising–but adorable–ferocity.
In many butterfly species, males have been observed engaging in combat to defend territory for mating, which is interesting in part because butterflies don’t have anything to fight with, really. Instead, some scientists think the winner is declared by how much effort is expended, though the jury is still out on these battles. This violence and bad behavior shouldn’t be too surprising. Butterflies are under the same evolutionary stresses and environmental threats as the rest of the animal kingdom.
The Butterfly Pavilion, open from March 5 to August 13, 2023, is more than a chance to see these beautiful little jerks flitter in close quarters. The Central American species recently featured in the Pavilion help support the conservation of their natural habitats. They come from the rainforest conservation organization El Bosque Nuevo which has used the sale and exportation of butterfly pupae to fund the conservation of 427 hectares of rainforest. So come enjoy some bad butterfly behavior while supporting a very good cause.