Danainae butterflies – leaf scratching and withered plants

on 30th July 2014

“Many plants contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids as a defense mechanism against insect herbivores. In turn there are many insects that consume the plants and build up the alkaloids in their bodies.

“Danainae butterflies (Tigers and Crows) have long been recognised to be attracted to and ‘feed’ on plants of certain genera, both withered and living LINK.

“Here’s a Common Tiger (Danaus genutia genutia) scratching and sucking at a living Rattleweed (Crotalaria retusa) plant which I recorded during a recent visit to Pulau Ubin (top, image; below, video). Such behaviour of Danaine species has been recorded in Hong Kong as the article reports, but perhaps not yet in Singapore.

“In the video below, I recorded a number of Danainae butterflies gathering at a little patch of False Dill (Artemisia scoparia) at Pasir Ris Park, including a batch that had been cut and which lay withering on the ground. As mentioned in the article, the butterflies were probably applying from their proboscides a fluid capable of dissolving the alkaloids and then re-imbibing them.

“Below is a close-up video of a few of them – Dark Glassy Tigers (Parantica agleoides agleoides), Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris) and Spotted Black Crow (Eulopea crameri bremeri) feeding on the False Dill.

“Below is an image of a female Striped Blue Crow busy feeding on the withered False Dill.”

Lena Chow
30th June 2014

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

3 responses

  1. Thanks Lena for explaining why Danianae butterflies are attracted to certain types of plants when these are bruised and even withered. Lepidopterists have long known that bunches of the Indian Heliotrope plant (Heliotropium indicum) can be hung up to attract this specific family of butterflies, but few knew the reason. Heliotropium contains the alkaloids that you mention.

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