Butterfly vs. Dragonfly

Several times lately I’ve witnessed limenitis aggressively chasing away libellula in my little meadow by the creek. It’s quite the air to air dogfight! I’m new to photographing and paying attention to these creatures and this behavior surprised me. Are they natural enemies?


Fascinating! I’ve never seen butterflies chase away dragonflies, but I have seen a few dragonflies eating butterflies. I would suppose they are natural enemies.


My guess (no concrete evidence for this) is that maybe they are males patrolling their territories for any passing females? So anything that gets in their way of possible success (another male of the same species, other butterflies, maybe even other insects) will be subsequently chased away? I believe butterflies have acute eyesight and so are able to spot the difference between potential mate vs “enemy”.

I have related anecdotal “evidence”, only except the one being chased was me. I was once in a place where a few hilltopping butterflies were, and a good few times when I am in their space, they would “divebomb” towards me, as if in attempt to chase me away.


Earlier this week I watched a white admiral butterfly as it seemed to “swoop and circle” birds at the feeder, until they left and it landed. It seemed deliberate and purposeful. The behaviour seemed unusual, like a chipmunk chasing a cat.


That’s interesting because I’m certain I was also attacked by viceroy’s once or twice. Similar to being flogged by a chicken. Perhaps ‘love’ is in the air at this time of year and ‘emotions’ are running high. Maybe it was my orange shirt? Who knows, right?

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Makes me recall seeing crows attack a redtail hawk. Hawk can easily dispatch the harasser but they don’t. Same with other little birds defending their nesting area including dogs, cats and people. Just never expected to see that behavior with butterflies.

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More brass than brains. Perhaps the show of instinctual courage, confidence and aggression is enough to thwart the intruder even though the physical threat made is comical and non-existant. It’s certainly more entertaining than watching the news.


I’ve seen similar things (not often). I have always thought that since both insects are highly visual they are attracted to anything of a certain size or colour that moves in case it’s a mate. Like @robotpie I have no concrete evidence to back this up!


I don’t know, the “from home” newscasts have gotten pretty entertaining lately. There’s already several 10 minute blooper compilations on YouTube (mostly kids and pets interrupting).

My only surprise is that the libellula let themselves be chased away. Dragonflies are extremely strong fliers with bodies as well as wings built for aggression against the flying insects they hunt and eat.

That the butterfly attempted to chase the dragonfly away does not surprise me. That’s because I, too, have been attacked by a territorial butterfly. The first time was a mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa, for those who don’t know butterfly names in American English). It was in a wetland area along a creek that had a little water. I was trying to photograph it and it flew around near me, trying to intimidate me.

If a bird or other vertebrate tries to drive you away, please cooperate and give it space, especially if there’s a chance it is defending young or a nest. Birds have often been driven to abandon hatchlings in a nest because humans keep getting too close.

But this was a butterfly. Butterflies do not stay with their eggs. Its behavior proved, to me at least, that it was a male defending its “territory” against all comers. I didn’t leave.

Well, that butterfly bopped me on the top of my head hard enough that I could feel it!

It was a teensy, tiny bop, of course. But I was amazed that something with such a small body could deliver a noticeable bop.

That was last year. This year, in a different part of the same preserve, it happened again, with a different species of butterfly.

Strange. Male insects chasing away males of the same species are increasing their chances of reproduction. But why put so much effort into chasing away other species?


Maybe it also serves as a display of health/strength?
Or just makes the territory itself a more desirable location to mate or deposit eggs, because there are less predators around after they’ve been driven away?


I hope you don’t mind, but that is one of the funniest things I have read in a long time! I’ve never had that happen, but I have had little insects on my legs or arms bite me. These were non-blood feeding insects, and were likely ‘sampling’ the substrate. One little bugger left a fingernail sized red lump on my knee that lasted a week. The unexpected!!

Great story about being head bopped by a butterfly. Thanks for sharing, made me laugh. Interesting behavior. Ain’t Mother Nature wonderful?!


I was bopped repeatedly on the head by a red admiral defending its territory (my garden) a few years back. It was aggressive and often chased me so vigilantly that I would give up trying to sit outside or work in the garden, plus I felt badly that it was wasting all this energy on me.

I’ve had similar admiral/lady interactions but never as aggressive as that one particular individual even though I’ve met plenty of other defenders of the same species.

I’ve also witnessed some dragonfly battles with leps and one intense interaction with a yellowjacket species. I think the dragonfly might have lost.


Yeah, I felt the slap of a butterfly’s wings too! Its stronger than your expect, I’d say.


I saw an interesting variation to this conversation this morning. A Monarch butterfly flew off of some milkweed flowers, and as it did so a small bee/wasp (too small to tell) engaged it. They had a little ‘battle’ for a few seconds, then they both left. No harm was done by either, but I don’t really understand what was going on with either insect!

wool carder bees will often get into territorial battles, attacking and chasing away anything that flies near their patch

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yeah it’s best to wear neutral colors like greys, browns, and greens, whatever blends in with the terrain when in close range with wildlife

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