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Butterflies – They Are What They Eat

Butterflies

Butterflies are famous for indulging on nectar-bearing plants. Some of the favorites are milkweed, asters, black-eyed Susans and for long time butterfly spotters believes in all. There’s another butterfly. However, that likes to shake up the Lepidoptera world. It has shown to feed on the different menu of substances.

The Northern Oak Hairstreak

Oak Hairstreak ButterfliesThe Northern Oak Hairstreak Butterflies of Ontario are a rare sight. Nature enthusiasts have been pursuing protection for the winged insects for years. But even though the sightings for the Northern Oak Hairstreaks are limited, new studies on the butterflies are showing that they may not be an endangered species after all.

The Northern Oak Hairstreak feed differently from most other species of butterflies. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut. Instead of favoring asters and milkweed, these tiny creatures prefer honeydew melon and oak galls. They’ve also known to feed on other insects such as aphids.

The reason why they don’t often see pertains to their surprising behavior. Most butterflies will balance their time between flying high and scavenging for food closer to the ground, but the Northern Oak Hairstreaks do not seem to be fond of the hanging out near the ground. Most of their lives are spent with them flying over the top of the forest canopies. And  diving closer to earth only when necessary.

Since butterfly spotters are typically confining to the ground with a pair of binoculars. They don’t see much of the Northern Oak Hairstreak butterfly. What they truly need is an aerial view to spot these unique Lepidoptera in their natural habitat. Now that scientists realize this, it could mean a change in how the butterflies are the treat in regards to mandated conservation efforts.
If this particular type of butterfly is not rare, just rarely spotted, there may be no need to put so much work into “saving” them. Right now, the studies proving their estimated numbers are not complete, so any changes that take place will not be immediate.

The data already being reviewed in the study has scientists asking, “Could the nutritional content of butterflies’ diet be a cause for their behavior and evolution?” Emelie Snell-Rood, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, believes it can.

How Nutrition May Be Affecting Butterflies

Nutrition ButterfliesFor years, there has a lot talked about in the news regarding the decline in Monarch butterflies. One of the main culprits in their decrease in numbers has been the American farming industry’s use of pesticides and insecticides.

While a decline in milkweed (the only plant female Monarchs will lay eggs on) was a result of modern farming and gardening practices, the consequences of today’s agricultural practices are not all bad.

Three primary substances seem to play the major roles in the butterfly evolution. The increased availability of all three is due to human activities. These pertinent dietary nutrients are sodium, nitrogen, and phosphorus.

Sodium

Sodium ButterfliesSodium is always found in road salts. Sodium is essential for optimal mobility, as salt intake directly affects muscular and nervous system function. Butterflies that have access to high amounts of sodium that are often faster to respond when threatened. They are stronger so they can fly faster and for longer periods of time.

Nitrogen

Butterflies Take NitrogenSodium-coupled with nitrogen has proven to have progressed the evolution of larger eyes in the butterflies that get more than the usually sized quantities in their diets. According to scientific studies, animals with bigger eyes have a higher survival rate because they can quickly identify mates for reproduction and they will spot danger more rapidly than insects with smaller eyes.

Fertilizer used in commercial farming, as well as household gardens, is boosting the nitrogen content in the butterflies’ diet as well as accelerating the growth of the plants humans eats. Butterflies that consume significant amounts of nitrogen have also proved to lay more eggs, although the size of the eggs that they produce are noticeably smaller than the butterflies that just get an average amount.

Phosphorus

Because of the full use of fertilizer, phosphorus from the soil makes its way to almost every body of water. When butterflies drink this water from puddles, they grow faster and bigger.

The Big Picture

Evolution is a natural occurrence in every species, the. However, human activity does make a difference in the changes scientists are observing in insects. The unique behavior exhibited by the Northern Oak Hairstreaks. The direct result of their diet is hard to prove but is a possibility.

One Comment

  1. Kathy TYLor
    Kathy TYLor September 18, 2017

    Do you want photos of butterflies in gardens? I have a few I could pass on. KT in Candiac.

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