Courtship behaviour of butterflies

Lena Chow’s three studies of butterfly courtship behaviour are presented in video clips below that she recorded over the years.

The Banded Swallowtail (Papilio demolion demolion) courting behaviour is shown below. The clip shows the male fluttering and hovering around the female.

Lena’s second video (below) involves the Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya wallacei). The flapping of the colourful wings of the male makes him conspicuous in a background of green. On the other hand, the female, with her wings folded and the cryptic colouration, is almost invisible in the background. Her presence is only noticed when she moves halfway through the video. As with the above video, this also shows the typical courtship behaviour.

Khew Sin Khoon’s account of butterfly courtship LINK mentions that whenever a male locates a female of his species, he will fly around her fluttering his wings as part of the courtship ritual. He will normally position himself upwind from her and releases his pheromones. This signals to the female his intention to mate.

As females may mate once or a few times only, they need to be choosy of their partners. Choice of partners will depend on general appearance, health, etc. Once she finds a suitable partner, she and the potential partner will perch on a leaf or a branch and bring the tips of their abdomens together. They remain attached for some hours while the male deposits his package of nutrients and sperms, the spermatophore, that will fertilise her eggs LINK.

However, if the female is not interested in the particular male, she will fly off, pursued by the male. Should she be cornered by the male, she may take the ultimate step of a ‘rejection posture’ – lying flat on the surface with wings half-opened or fully opened. At the same time her abdomen will be thrust upwards to make it difficult, if not impossible, for the male to clasp the tip of her abdomen.

Lena’s third video (above) shows the female Lemon Emigrant (Catopsilia pomona pomosa) rejecting the attention of the male with her rejection posture. She lies with wings open and abdomen directed up. The male makes futile attempts at engaging her. He eventually knocked her and managed to turn he upwards… but whether he succeeded to eventually mate with her is not known.

The screen-grab images below show the male approaching the female who is lying on the ground with her abdomen directed upwards (left), the male trying unsuccessful to mate (centre) and the female now turned over with the male nearby (right).

If the female has already mated, she will release her pheromone to tell the male that she is unavailable LINK.

“The female has adopted the typical ‘I’m not interested’ pose as I’ve seen in the field many times” noted Sin Khoon. “In the video, the female has her legs on the ground at all times, except when one moment where she is knocked by the male and stumbled a bit. Her abdomen is raised and the male is unable to use his claspers to grasp her. …A willing female will lower her abdomen and fold her wings upright and the male usually maneuvers such that his abdomen is parallel to hers before turning and clasping the opening for engagement.”

Lena Chow & Khew Sin Khoon
November 2013

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