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The Language of Butterflies

Wendy Williams

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Monarch butterflies will eat only milkweed. Well known fact. So one entomologist tried giving the caterpillars only cabbage leaves. Almost every one of them starved to death. But one sport survived. He bred those, and ended up with a type of Monarch that would only eat cabbage.

But consequences. Monarch caterpillars eat milkweed, which contain bitter toxins. And those toxins consumed by the caterpillar last into that adult buuterfly. When a bird tries to eat eithher the caterpillar of the butterfly, it spits out straight away, and never tries again. But the caterpillars raised on cabbages had no protective toxins, and as soon as released into the wild, they were all quickly predated.

But this is evo in a nutshell: the environment changes radically and almost all the members of group die out. But a very few sports with different needs survive, and potentially found a new species or sub-species.

Supposition that butterflies governed by innate instincts. So, it was believed, they were compelled by heredity to migrate long distances from Mexico to Washington to breed. But turns out that they are a lot more flexible than thought. There are multiple populations in America, and in other countries. In Australia, for example, they migrate very short distance, or not at all. Seems to just depend on the environment - if all needs met, don't need to move.

Species go extinct when local environments change. Humans try to restore the setting, but actually very complex relationships. A butterfly called Fender's blue was rescued from extinction, but only once all factors restored. It relied on a particular type of lupine, and the lupine needed regular fires to suppress competing plants. The butterfly also needed ants. The caterpillar secretes a sweet liquid which the ants love; the ants then keep wasps away from the caterpillar.

An English butterfly, called a large blue, has a caterpillar phase where it mimics the smell and sound of a queen ant of a particular species of ant. The ants take the caterpillar back to the nest where it happily feeds on ant eggs, pupates, and then is escorted out of the nest by the ants.

People will sign on to butterfly conservation plans simply because the joy they get from seeing a colouful one.

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