Does anybody know of any records/images showing butterflies being preyed upon while puddling? I’m curious because it seems like they would be at their most vulnerable while engrossed with feeding, so much so that they completely lose focus of their surroundings. Those of us who are more familiar will know that it often is possible to pick these butterflies up quite easily while they’re puddling so it would seem like they would easily succumb to predators whenever they do this and yet this does not seem to be the case.
All of this got me wondering why we don’t seem to see predators like birds or lizards pick on these easy targets more often.
Records from all around the world are welcome, as i believe this “anomaly” is a global phenomenon
yeah you are right they are drunk butterflies, when they mud puddle and its easy to photograph them, but they are not vulnerable in eyes of predator because they are in groups which keeps preadator away, this behaviour looks kind of same to roosting of birds where small birds sit in a big group.
but still I also think some times why butterfly are not eaten when they mud puddle cause I have seen butterflies species where only one butterfly is alone on a puddle.
The reason for this, is that grouping together in this way gives the butterflies protection from predators. By gathering with others of a similar size or colour, it makes it harder for predators to pick out a single individual and target them.
I have heard that it is very tough for the predator to pick on a group of Monarchs as Monarchs produce a special enzyme.
Butterflies are actually quite vulnerable while puddling; only in certain cases do “strength in numbers” communal behaviors serve as protection from predators (especially of the avian sort).
In this observation (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/80720367) there is a great deal of carnage from local Brown Thrashers (Toxostoma rufum) and Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) attacking E. Tiger Swallowtails at a regular puddling site. Interestingly, there’s also a great deal of interspecific/intraspecific battling between some of the male P. glaucus/P. appalachiensis at puddling sites in the mountains, which is sometimes lethal: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/24834007
Of course, when B. philenor (and mimics like female S. diana, P. troilus, etc.) are puddling, the mimicry complicates things and reinforces the group possibly more so than they would be otherwise. And the little Celastrina spp. seem to be even more vulnerable than enormous, intimidating swallowtails.
Probably not what you’re looking for, but in Virginia I noticed that puddling swallowtails were “visited” by a small wasp species that perched on the butterfly’s wings while it was drinking.
Might they be swallowtail egg parasites that follow or even ride swallowtails that are attracted to puddling sites? Do they just “hang out” at puddling sites and wait for butterflies to show up for a drink? (maybe we should call them barflies in that case. Ha-ha). Ran this idea past a friend of mine who’s a Hymenoptera expert. He thought it was pretty far-fetched.
Thanks for replying! I’ve heard this being proposed as a possible explanation but it literally (and i don’t mean to sound rude or anything) makes zero sense because the theory of safety in numbers is used for large aggregations of the same species, that are naturally gregarious and synchronise their movements as a flock/shoal in order to deliberately confuse potential predators (such as certain marine fish and the whole zebra/tsetse fly theory) whereas butterflies of many species congregate at one spot without a common intention but simply to feed- there is no “hive mind” and certainly no deliberate attempt to coordinate and confuse
In fact, the situation is worsened as a few butterflies puddling causes a chain reaction, attracting more butterflies as well as a multitude of other insects like moths, flies and wasps to descend and visit the damp ground (this has been proven as the mere sight of a coloured object on the ground has been shown to be an effective lure for certain butterflies (eg. Morpho, Papilio ulysses)). It is basically an easy buffet for predators
Thanks for replying but i do not buy this explanation. Please see my comments under @abhijatshakya 's post
Agreed, this explanation would definitely apply for unpalatable species, but in the case of puddling butterflies, the vast majority do not have chemical protection
Maybe your butterflies are different, here they’re far from the state where you can pick them, come little closer - yes, but they’re very much hidden from predators by their colouration and underwing is more cryptic, and if there’re many of them it works the same as school of fish.
Thank you so much for your reply! I personally am not a fan of the “strength in numbers” theory because it simply does not make sense when you see them in the field as i’ve explained in my other comments and is more of a convenient attempt to pass this off as another one of those situations involving animals in herds/flocks.
Thanks for the links too. Have you actually ever witnessed them being attacked by birds? Because if so, i think that would have been the first observation in history to show avian predators actively taking advantage of the vulnerable puddling butterflies- i know of no other mention or evidence of such a thing happening from anywhere else in the world but hopefully more cases will show up in the replies
Thanks for replying. There always are small flies and wasps sitting on puddling butterflies’ wings like this but i don’t think they cause any harm
I do agree that those butterflies with cryptic and chemical protection are the ones that should be least concerned about congregating openly
However, the biggest irony is, that toxic species (Danainae for example) are rarely observed puddling on the ground in large numbers (when they do puddle, it’s always at plants containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids or as documented recently by some of my friends, on their own larvae!, which they term kleptopharmacophagy)
Here’s a typical puddling scene that i took in Borneo: Puddling pierids | Large congregation of Catopsilia spp. and… | Flickr
You can see that they are far from cryptic and are palatable
@atronoxychump I loved your criticism very much, it also made me think by a different point of view, really blown my mind, But I think predators would prefer to attack only 1 butterfly(if they easily sight that butterfly) not many others due to there predator reasons, or the butterflies that you see are just lucky. I know I can be wrong so please correct me!
Thank you. I’ve wondered about this for a very long time and it really is not as straightforward as it seems isn’t it?
Another plausible explanation i have is that it could simply be that predators will not take any chances because there are humans observing. A simple experiment with a camera trap or observing from a distance should be able to prove this but it seems like no one has attempted it before
Yes! I have watched them being eaten by the catbirds/thrashers on many occasions; at the same location as the “signs” of predation I shared. There are few reptilian predators of large butterflies in my region, but birds do seem rather fond of them even in mudpuddling clusters.
Interesting question. I’ve seen many groups of butterflies at mud and water but I can’t recall seeing any traces of predation, never mind an actual bird in the act. And I do much of much of my butterfly photography in a a prominent birding area, so there is no shortage of avian insectivores nearby. However, I’ve seen birds go for moths (often startled in the daytime) many times.
Wow that is amazing and very lucky! I would love to witness that in the tropics
one point we also see is that predation during mud puddling is low, that’s why butterflies are using this as practice. I also think that predation during mud puddling can also be common but we don’t see it, like we know many many butterflies die each day but still we get dead butterfly bodies very rarily.