Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hilltopping = barhopping for butterflies

During their brief lifetimes, swallowtails, like most butterflies, basically do three things: bask in the sun, sip sugary nectar, and have sex. Since they only spend one or two weeks in their adult form, it seems fitting that they should live it up.

Amorous swallowtails head for the hills--literally--to find mates. This activity, known by the descriptive and delightful name "hilltopping," is shared by some other insect species. (But at least one species of swallowtail, the western tiger, tends to prefer trees that border rivers or even streets.) The males patrol the area, seeking females of their own species. When a female seductively flutters by, the male pursues her. They mate by pressing the tips of their abdomens together as he transfers a packet of sperm called a spermatophore to her.

When she is ready to lay eggs, she seeks an appropriate food plant for her species, confirming its identity with hairlike taste organs on the tips of her forelegs. After depositing 150 or more single eggs, she lives only a short time. Like most butterflies, a swallowtail lives fast, dies within a month of emerging from its chrysalis, and leaves a good-looking corpse.


  1. Butterflies are rock stars!  Wonder if there is somewhere a Keith Richards butterfly, haggard, raddled, and still pumping it out?

  2. Do you take those lovely photographs?  Give one pause to view the real beauties of nature.  I see you end with an almost quote from "Know on Any Door" where Nick Romano saying, "Live fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse."

  3. Oh no, I don't take the pretty photos (you're thinking of Rose Lefebvre! ;o) They are photos marked for reuse, but I include the photographer's name when I can find it. 

    I was remembering that quote as being attributed to James Dean, but a little googling shows that you're right--and Willard Motley wrote the book that movie was based on.

  4. Staggering around from flower to flower, seeking just one more hit of nectar, man!

  5. I love swallowtails! Thanks for the post...very interesting!