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Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2021 15:10:09 -0400
From: 'Garry Kessler' via MassLep <masslep...>
Subject: [MassLep] Article: Unusual butterfly behavior

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https://www.yahoo.com/now/milkweed-butterflies-more-murderous-look-17305716=
0.html


Milkweed Butterflies Are More Murderous Than They Look

<https://www.facebook.com/dialog/feed?app_id=3D458584288257241&link=3Dhttps=
%3A%2F%2Fwww.yahoo.com%2Fnow%2Fmilkweed-butterflies-more-murderous-look-173=
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20Than%20They%20Look&url=3Dhttps%3A%2F%2Fwww.yahoo.com%2Fnow%2Fmilkweed-but=
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src%3Dsocial-sh%26soc_trk%3Dma>
Annie Roth
Sun, September 12, 2021, 1:30 PM=C2=B74 min read
Undated photos provided by Tea et. al show milkweed butterflies imbibing=20
from dead and living caterpillars. (Tea et. al via The New York Times)
Undated photos provided by Tea et. al show milkweed butterflies imbibing=20
from dead and living caterpillars. (Tea et. al via The New York Times)

Butterflies seem gentle as they flutter from plant to plant. But some=20
may be more murderous than you imagine. Naturalists recently witnessed=20
several species of milkweed butterfly harassing, subduing and=20
subsequently feeding on milkweed caterpillars, presumably to get their=20
fill of toxic alkaloids inside the larvae.

This behavior was described in an article published Wednesday in the=20
journal Ecology/./The authors of the paper say they are unaware of=20
similar behavior being documented among other butterflies or any=20
insects, for that matter, that are so closely related. Although=20
butterflies had previously been observed feeding on grasshoppers that=20
harbor toxic alkaloids, no one had ever documented adult butterflies=20
stealing such compounds from their own kin.

Scientists did not have a word to describe this toxic behavior, so the=20
study=E2=80=99s authors came up with one: kleptopharmacophagy.

The discovery was made in December 2019 when two friends traveled to the=20
Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve on the northern part of Indonesia=E2=80=
=99s=20
Sulawesi island. Yi-Kai Tea, a graduate student studying ichthyology at=20
the University of Sydney and the Australian Museum Research Institute,=20
and Jonathan Wei Soong, a naturalist from Singapore, share a passion for=20
macrophotography and butterflies and had decided to spend their holiday=20
photographing the reserve=E2=80=99s stunning array of fluttering insects.

Many of the butterflies the pair were hoping to see were milkweed=20
butterflies. There are some 300 species in the group, including the=20
iconic monarch, all of which are toxic to would-be predators. They gain=20
most of their toxicity by feeding on plants rich in alkaloids and come=20
in a variety of bold and brilliant colors that serve as warnings to=20
potential predators.

On the first day of their trip, the two men visited a forested area by=20
the beach and stumbled upon a butterfly bonanza. Hundreds of milkweed=20
butterflies from several species were swarming around a patch of=20
vegetation near the forest floor, a rare sight even in this lush reserve.

Delighted, Tea and Soong spent hours photographing the insects. It was=20
not until the end of the day, when they were going over their pictures,=20
that the two men realized they had documented strange and sinister behavior=
.

After making the initial observation, Tea and Soong spent the next two=20
days at the site doing their best to document the gruesome gorging in=20
greater detail.

=E2=80=9CWe thought it was really cool,=E2=80=9D Soong said, adding that he=
finds=20
milkweed butterflies =E2=80=9Ckind of metal.=E2=80=9D

Soong and Tea spent hours watching seven different species of milkweed=20
butterfly, including Blanchard=E2=80=99s ghost and the ismare tiger butterf=
ly,=20
scratching caterpillars, both dead and alive, so violently with mighty=20
claws on their feet that the caterpillars=E2=80=99 internal juices oozed ou=
t.=20
They said the behavior cannot be described as predatory because many=20
caterpillars survive the encounters.

They also observed butterflies doing the same thing to the leaves of=20
plants known to contain toxic alkaloids. As caterpillars, milkweed=20
butterflies eat leaves loaded with pyrrolizidine alkaloids to make=20
themselves unpalatable to their predators.

Having a steady supply of pyrrolizidine alkaloids is also important for=20
male milkweed butterflies. These alkaloids are an ingredient in mating=20
pheromones and also in nuptial gifts, which are globs of sperm and=20
nutrients that males attach to their mates=E2=80=99 abdomens during sex. Of=
the=20
dozens of butterflies that Tea and Soong saw scratching leaves and=20
caterpillars, only one was female. This imbalance supports the=20
researchers=E2=80=99 hypothesis that the milkweed butterflies were attackin=
g=20
caterpillars to get the toxic alkaloids sequestered in the prey=E2=80=99s=
=20
bodies. However, more research is needed to confirm this.

=E2=80=9COne of the highly desirable follow-up experiments would be to see =
if=20
the compounds are actually transferred,=E2=80=9D said David Lohman, a co-au=
thor=20
of the study and an insect biologist and associate professor at City=20
College of New York.

Tea believes that such butterfly-on-caterpillar violence is not unusual.=20
=E2=80=9CButterflies have a whole repertoire of really gross and nasty=20
behaviors,=E2=80=9D Tea said. One example is pupal rape, a phenomenon in wh=
ich=20
male butterflies force their way into the chrysalises of female=20
butterflies that have not finished metamorphosing and force them to=20
mate, he said.

Clint Penick, an assistant professor at Kennesaw State University in=20
Georgia who studies the social lives of insects and was not involved in=20
the study, agreed.

=E2=80=9CThe more we zoom in, the more we find insects that are fighting ea=
ch=20
other and drinking each other=E2=80=99s blood,=E2=80=9D Penick said. =E2=80=
=9CThat=E2=80=99s one of the=20
fun things about studying insects: You can literally walk out your front=20
door and witness some pretty wild biological interactions, just on a=20
small scale.=E2=80=9D

Soong and Tea are eager for their fellow lepidopterophiles to keep an=20
eye out for more examples of butterfly kleptopharmacophagy and to share=20
them with a photo of the behavior at <Hungrymilkweed...>

=C2=A9 2021 The New York Times Company


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style=3D"position: relative; display: block;
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class=3D"caas-author-byline-collapse"
data-id=3D"m-0">Annie Roth</span></div>
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Sun,
September 12, 2021, 1:30 PM</time><span
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min
read</span></div>
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:
relative; overflow: hidden; padding-bottom:
251.538px;"><img class=3D"caas-img has-preview
caas-loaded" alt=3D"Undated photos provided by
Tea et. al show milkweed butterflies
imbibing from dead and living caterpillars.
(Tea et. al via The New York Times)"
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<div class=3D"caption-wrapper
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style=3D"display: block; margin: 5px 0px; color:
rgb(118, 125, 132); font-size: 1em; line-height:
1.5; text-align: left;">Undated photos provided
by Tea et. al show milkweed butterflies imbibing
from dead and living caterpillars. (Tea et. al
via The New York Times)</figcaption></div>
</figure>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">Butterflies
seem gentle as they flutter from plant to plant. But
some may be more murderous than you imagine.
Naturalists recently witnessed several species of
milkweed butterfly harassing, subduing and
subsequently feeding on milkweed caterpillars,
presumably to get their fill of toxic alkaloids
inside the larvae.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">This
behavior was described in an article published
Wednesday in the journal Ecology<em>.<span>=C2=A0</span=
></em>The
authors of the paper say they are unaware of similar
behavior being documented among other butterflies or
any insects, for that matter, that are so closely
related. Although butterflies had previously been
observed feeding on grasshoppers that harbor toxic
alkaloids, no one had ever documented adult
butterflies stealing such compounds from their own
kin.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">Scientists
did not have a word to describe this toxic behavior,
so the study=E2=80=99s authors came up with one:
kleptopharmacophagy.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">The
discovery was made in December 2019 when two friends
traveled to the Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve on
the northern part of Indonesia=E2=80=99s Sulawesi islan=
d.
Yi-Kai Tea, a graduate student studying ichthyology
at the University of Sydney and the Australian
Museum Research Institute, and Jonathan Wei Soong, a
naturalist from Singapore, share a passion for
macrophotography and butterflies and had decided to
spend their holiday photographing the reserve=E2=80=99s
stunning array of fluttering insects.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">Many of
the butterflies the pair were hoping to see were
milkweed butterflies. There are some 300 species in
the group, including the iconic monarch, all of
which are toxic to would-be predators. They gain
most of their toxicity by feeding on plants rich in
alkaloids and come in a variety of bold and
brilliant colors that serve as warnings to potential
predators.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">On the
first day of their trip, the two men visited a
forested area by the beach and stumbled upon a
butterfly bonanza. Hundreds of milkweed butterflies
from several species were swarming around a patch of
vegetation near the forest floor, a rare sight even
in this lush reserve.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">Delighted,
Tea and Soong spent hours photographing the insects.
It was not until the end of the day, when they were
going over their pictures, that the two men realized
they had documented strange and sinister behavior.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">After
making the initial observation, Tea and Soong spent
the next two days at the site doing their best to
document the gruesome gorging in greater detail.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">=E2=80=9CWe
thought it was really cool,=E2=80=9D Soong said, adding=
that
he finds milkweed butterflies =E2=80=9Ckind of metal.=
=E2=80=9D</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">Soong and
Tea spent hours watching seven different species of
milkweed butterfly, including Blanchard=E2=80=99s ghost=
and
the ismare tiger butterfly, scratching caterpillars,
both dead and alive, so violently with mighty claws
on their feet that the caterpillars=E2=80=99 internal j=
uices
oozed out. They said the behavior cannot be
described as predatory because many caterpillars
survive the encounters.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">They also
observed butterflies doing the same thing to the
leaves of plants known to contain toxic alkaloids.
As caterpillars, milkweed butterflies eat leaves
loaded with pyrrolizidine alkaloids to make
themselves unpalatable to their predators.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">Having a
steady supply of pyrrolizidine alkaloids is also
important for male milkweed butterflies. These
alkaloids are an ingredient in mating pheromones and
also in nuptial gifts, which are globs of sperm and
nutrients that males attach to their mates=E2=80=99 abd=
omens
during sex. Of the dozens of butterflies that Tea
and Soong saw scratching leaves and caterpillars,
only one was female. This imbalance supports the
researchers=E2=80=99 hypothesis that the milkweed
butterflies were attacking caterpillars to get the
toxic alkaloids sequestered in the prey=E2=80=99s bodie=
s.
However, more research is needed to confirm this.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">=E2=80=9COne=
of
the highly desirable follow-up experiments would be
to see if the compounds are actually transferred,=E2=80=
=9D
said David Lohman, a co-author of the study and an
insect biologist and associate professor at City
College of New York.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">Tea
believes that such butterfly-on-caterpillar violence
is not unusual. =E2=80=9CButterflies have a whole reper=
toire
of really gross and nasty behaviors,=E2=80=9D Tea said.=
One
example is pupal rape, a phenomenon in which male
butterflies force their way into the chrysalises of
female butterflies that have not finished
metamorphosing and force them to mate, he said.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">Clint
Penick, an assistant professor at Kennesaw State
University in Georgia who studies the social lives
of insects and was not involved in the study,
agreed.</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">=E2=80=9CThe=
more
we zoom in, the more we find insects that are
fighting each other and drinking each other=E2=80=99s
blood,=E2=80=9D Penick said. =E2=80=9CThat=E2=80=99s on=
e of the fun things
about studying insects: You can literally walk out
your front door and witness some pretty wild
biological interactions, just on a small scale.=E2=80=
=9D</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">Soong and
Tea are eager for their fellow lepidopterophiles to
keep an eye out for more examples of butterfly
kleptopharmacophagy and to share them with a photo
of the behavior at <a class=3D"moz-txt-link-abbreviated=
" href=3D"mailto:<Hungrymilkweed...>"><Hungrymilkweed...></a>.</p=
>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;">=C2=A9 2021
The New York Times Company</p>
<p style=3D"margin: 0px 0px 0.8em; font-size: 1.385em;
letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 1.8;"><br>
</p>
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