WHAT TYPE OF RELATIONSHIP DOES THE MACULINEA ALCON BUTTERFLY HAVE WITH THE ANTS?

Did you know there is a species of butterfly, Maculinea alcon, that can trick the Myrmica ants into taking care of their young? The butterfly's caterpillar feeding off plants drop to the ground and wait to be picked up by the passing ant. Its waxy coat secretes chemicals that mimic those found on the ants. Mistaking it for one of its own, the ant takes it to its nest where it's taken care of by other ants.

Studying  Maculinea alcon, a beautiful blue butterfly, in the marshes of Denmark, David R. Nash and colleagues found that Alcon butterflies fool Myrmica ants into raising their young, by having larvae with an outer coating that mimics that of the ants. The ants care for the Alcon blue butterfly caterpillars — an ant colony parasite — to the detriment of their own offspring.

The researchers say the observed differences in patterns of surface chemistry of caterpillars between locations “indicate an ongoing coevolutionary arms race between the butterflies and Myrmica” ants.

“The more closely the butterfly mimics the ant cuticle’s hydrocarbon chemistry, the more successful the butterfly is in attracting the ants, but this varies from location to location,” explained a statement from Science Express.

Nash and colleagues say the findings should be considered when reintroducing the threatened Alcon blue butterfly into the wild.

Credit : Mongabay

Picture Credit : Google 

HOW TO CREATE A SMALL BUTTERFLY PARK AT HOME?

Creating a little butterfly patch in the garden at home will help you understand butterflies better and their importance to the ecosystem

Do you love butterflies? Have you ever observed them closely? Flitting from one flower to another, these fascinating creatures add beauty, colour and drama to the natural world. But they also serve an important purpose. Extremely sensitive to changes in the environment, butterflies act as indicators of a healthy ecosystem. If you watch them keenly, they can tell you a lot about the biodiversity in your region.

The world is home to over 20,000 different species of butterflies and India has over 1,500. But many of these are under threat of extinction due to habitat loss, environmental pollution and climate change. Some of these pretty creatures have disappeared from our cities altogether. The IUCN has classified 43 butterfly species in India as endangered.

By planting and protecting indigenous native plants and trees, we can bring back the butterflies, experts say.

If you have a wild patch in your garden or backyard. this could be the ideal place for a butterfly park. All you need to do is, ensure the area has a water body, a sunlit area, a shady area and host and nectar plants. Host plants

These act as lifelines for the butterflies. They lay eggs on the host plant and the caterpillars feed on the leaves. These plants provide nutrition to the hungry caterpillars. Without host plants, butterflies would not visit your garden. One of the common and easy-to-find host plants is the curry leaf. which attracts the beautiful common mormon butterfly.

If you can plant lemon or any plant belonging to the citrus variety, you can attract a number of butterflies in the  swallowtail family.

 Nectar plants

If host plants nourish caterpillars, nectar plants provide food for adult butterflies. Butterflies have a sharp sense of smell and they can spot colours from afar, so they are attracted to fragrant and colourful flowers, which are also a good source of nectar for them. From marigolds to ixora, most flowering plants can attract butterflies. If you don't plan to buy them from a nursery. even a common red hibiscus will do: as it attracts the brightly-coloured danaid egafly butterfly. Even the common milkweed and lantana are excellent sources of nectar for butterflies.

Puddling

If your garden does not include a natural waterbody. you could create a muddy. wet patch by watering an area frequently. Or, you could place a plastic sheet under this muddy spot to manage moisture level.Spread sand along the sides of the muddy place along with leaf litter from time to time. Butterflies, especially males, visit such damp areas to get their daily dose of water, minerals and essential chemicals. This is known as 'mud-puddling.’

Avoid pesticides

 Do not spray pesticide in your garden. This will keep away all the butterflies.

Allow weeds

Do not pluck out grass and small herbs and weeds in your garden as these attract a large number of small butterflies. Maintain a wild patch as it is. You could also reach out to the nearest Butterfly Park in your city to learn more about the native plants in your region and the butterflies they can attract.

Picture Credit : Google 

Do butterflies taste with their feet?

When you eat your food, depending on how it tastes, you can quickly decide whether you like it or not. You can thank the taste buds on your tongue for that important aspect of enjoying life (and discerning displeasure)! Butterflies, however, don’t have taste buds like us mammals. Their mouthparts mainly serve as a straw through which they suck up their food—no chewing necessary. Butterflies have chemoreceptors, a type of sensors, on their feet. These sensors act similar to how our taste buds do. A female butterfly will drum the leaves with her feet to release the juices in a plant. She "tastes" the chemicals released thus not to eat them, but for a different reason. She looks for the appropriate plant chemicals to check if the plant is safe (and not toxic) for the caterpillars before laying her eggs. Apparently, these sensors can detect "dissolved sugars in fermenting fruit", which butterflies love.  Without so-called “taste buds”, how do butterflies know what is nectar and what isn’t? Butterflies do taste their food, but not through their mouthparts. Instead, they do it through their feet! Having an animal’s feet serve as taste organs sounds preposterous, which is probably why researchers never even considered the possibility.

The thinking was that if humans and most other mammals had a tongue for taste, a similar organ must serve the same function in insects. Nature rarely works in such a straight and predictable manner. It was only in the late 1800s that researchers began to take a more out-of-the-box approach to the problem. This is when they discovered that it was the legs, not the mouthparts, that functioned as taste receptors in butterflies!

Insects are a varied bunch of organisms, making it difficult to generalize a feature across them all. Butterflies have mouthparts designed like straws, so they don’t really have a tongue. Such insects whose mouthparts are only designed to suck liquids are called haustellate insects. Lepidoptera, the order to which butterflies and moths belong, and Diptera, the order to which flies belong, are both “leg tasters”. The taste buds are called contact chemoreceptors, taste receptors, or basiconic sensilla in some literature. These chemoreceptors are attached to nerve endings. When chemicals present in the insect’s surrounding come in contact with the chemoreceptors, they activate the nerves, which relay the information to the insect’s brain.

Credit : Science ABC

Picture Credit : Google 

 

Why is my butterfly not eating?



Butterflies don’t eat; that only drink. Though caterpillars constantly eat, once they turn into butterflies, they only drink liquids, primarily nectar from flowers and juices from fruits. Butterflies drink using a proboscis – a tube that works like a straw – because of which they stick to an all-liquid diet.



They do need other nutrients like nitrogen, salts and amino acids. These can be found in tree sap, wet soil and flower pollen. Somewhat less appealing, they can also get these nutrients from rotten fruit or vegetables, faeces, urine, sweat, tears and (the least attractive of all) rotting carcasses!



These nutritional needs stem from the caterpillar’s food. Plants have almost none of the salts that all animals need. Even plant eating mammals like horses and cows need salts – this is also why plants need fertilizers.



 



Picture Credit : Google


What is the amazing migratory journey of Monarchs of Mexico?



The delicate orange and black winged creatures weigh less a gram and live for about a month. But every autumn, a special generation of butterflies is born that will survive seven to eight months and undertake an unbelievable 5,470 km migratory journey! They are the monarch butterflies, one of the largest of their species. And the place to witness this phenomenon is the 56,259 ha Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



For thousands of years, monarch butterflies have travelled from Canada and USA to Mexico from September onwards to escape the harsh winter of North America. The butterflies thrive in the warm climate of Mexico before returning to their northern homes in spring. Scientists have yet to discover how they accomplish this feat!



Mexico created the Reserve in 1986 to protect the winter habitat of these butterflies. From November to March, millions, probably billions of butterflies swarm around in the Reserve, colouring the trees and mountainsides orange. Trees branches literally sag under their weight! Cars have to slow down to avoid hurting them as they fly across the road.



 



Picture Credit : Google