A pair of butterflies spiraling – what’s rare in that?
For one thing, this is the best image I ever made of a flying butterfly till date. I was roaming around in the market area outside a very renowned temple in Hyderabad, clicking pictures of the merchandise on display. Thence I came upon a shop that had not yet opened for the day. Interestingly, it had a bright red shutter and a bright red colored wooden cot in front of it. In the vicinity, I noticed a pair of butterflies in flight, going round and round each other in circles. The pair moved around all over the place, never once separating. I focused the camera onto an area on the red shutter and waited for the pair to cross my view finder. After quite a long wait, I was able to take this picture.
At first glance it seemed to me that this was a mating ritual between a male and female butterfly. Based on the looks of the bigger butterfly in the picture, I identified it to belong to a genus of butterflies called the Egg fly (Hypolimnas spp). It may have been a Danaed Egg fly – Hypolimnas missipus.
I was surprised to see that none of the three possible morphological forms of the females (from various butterfly related sites) matched the second butterfly. The smaller of the two butterflies can be seen to have a big white disc on both its fore and hind wings, which is not found in any of the females I looked up on the internet.
So is it a male after all, or a different species all together?
While trying to find an answer to this question, I found an interesting fact that butterflies do mate between species in nature.
(For those who are interested: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3997309/)
Thus, I tried looking up different species of Hypolimnas. But I could not find a match for the little fellow. When however, I started reading up, I found some very interesting facts. The Egg flies that eclose in the autumn are bigger while those that eclose in spring and summer are smaller in size.
(For the more scientifically inclined: http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/content/13/4/456.full)
Now, what does eclose mean?
Well, it is the process of a butterfly coming out of the pupal stage. Simply put, a bird hatches and a butterfly ecloses.
Then it became clear to me, that the two butterflies in the picture are not mates but are rival males that are different in size simply because of eclosing in different seasons. And the spiralling that I observed going on for such a long time was actually a display of territoriality. While most species resort to brute force to obtain mating rights, the butterfly uses this “aerial war of attrition”. It is a show of stamina between the rivals, where each tries to out-stay or out-last the other in flight to establish its territory and perching rights.
Isn’t it amazing how nature works?
What’s more amazing is that a frozen moment in the flight of a pair of butterflies could lead me to uncover so many facts that I never knew of before. Such moments are definitely rare.
This post is in response to Weekly Photo Challenge Rare