I have been visiting family in Ohio the last couple of days. When heading home from a hike in Southern Ohio, I spotted a dead fawn along the side of the road. As I got closer, I noticed that the fawn was covered with butterflies. I was saddened by the loss of the fawn, but at the same time intrigued by the butterflies and their resourcefulness. Nature provides, but sometimes it isn't always pretty.
Butterflies sometimes exhibit a behavior called "puddling". This is when they will congregate, usually on a mud puddle, to find salts, minerals and moisture. But sometimes they will use feces and, in this case, a carcass to access the needed nutrients.
Above is a Tawny Emperor, Asterocampa clyton. There were many of these attending the gory puddle party. Tawny Emperors rarely visit flowers, but like tree sap, rotting fruit, dung and carrion.This Hackberry Emperor, Asterocampa celtis, is related to the Tawny Emperor, but is duller in appearance. The name for this butterfly comes from the host plant for the caterpillars, the Hackberry tree. Like its cousin, it is also a butterfly that does not visit flowers very often. There were thousands, and I am not exaggerating, of these butterflies all along the road. Amazing!
A Great Spangled Fritillary, Speyeria cybele, also joined the party. These three species of butterflies, the two emperors and the fritillary, are members of the brush-foot family, Nymphalidae. The name brush-foot comes from the fact that the front two legs on these butterflies are greatly reduced or brush-like. They only use their back four legs for walking around and the front ones are almost non-existent.
This Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucas, even went inside the carcass to find the nutrients it desired. Tiger Swallowtails are fascinating creatures. The caterpillars exhibit great camouflage techniques to keep from being eaten. As a young caterpillar, they look like bird droppings. When they become bigger, the caterpillars mimic a snake's head with large eyespots. Check out this site to view some great pictures of the Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars.
Another group of visitors to the decomposing fawn were Red-lined Carrion Beetles, Necrodes surinamensis . There were hundreds of these, most of them under the carcass. The adults mainly feed on fly larvae, but the beetles' young feed on the carrion.
If you enjoy butterflies as much as I do, and want to see them in a much more pleasant place, you might considered attending the Appalachian Butterfly Conference, August 8th-10th in beautiful Southern Ohio. Information about the event can be found here. Hope to see you there!
I also promise my next post will be much more pleasant :-)