Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

July 30, 2009

A Little Blue on Poo

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:26 pm

It’s often said that beauty is only skin deep and that butterflies are free.  When these two old saws are combined, the natural conclusion could be that beautiful butterflies are free to be shallow. This, of course, is about as far from the truth as you can get. Butterflies are complicated little beasts and their beauty is profoundly deep.  Perhaps a better read on this phrase combination would be that “beauty has a price.” Let’s take the little blue Azure butterfly as a simple example.

The Azure is a butterfly with a complex. You see, normally these little woodland inhabitants are called Spring Azures because they are among the first butterflies out in early spring. However, things get, well,…more complex, when mid-summer comes along and there are still spring Azures (like the one in the above photo) flying about. Spring is long over. The Spring Peepers have long silenced themselves and the Spring Beauty flowers have gone to summer seed. Summer is, in fact, getting long in the tooth so, what gives? The answer is that these particular seasonal Azures are actually Summer Spring Azures.

In some textbooks these warm season versions are known simply as Summer Azures and are endowed with separate scientific names as proof of their pedigree. Unfortunately, not all scientists agree that this is truely the case. They (you know, “they” -“them” – “those other people with no names”) believe that there are actually a variety of Azures out there which exhibit slight differences between them. They believe that these differences might just be seasonal in nature and assign them sub-species names as a result. Thus, these “thems” have created something called the “Spring Azure Complex” as a way to describe this tribe of six or so butterflies that pretty much act and look alike. They have created “Spring” Spring Azures and “Summer” Spring Azures.

I do not believe there is a category called the “Winter Spring Summer Fall Azure,” but this would actually simply things. We could call this one “the” Azure, with an emphasis on the “the,”  and be done with it.  We could forget about the others and be free to point and say “look, there’s a beautiful Azure butterfly acting free.”  But, for now, the fact remains that this is a complex situation and we have to think before saying anything.

One undeniable simplicity connected with the Azure is that they are poo drinkers. Yes, in order to keep those beautiful wings in working order, Azures dabble in doo juice. As caterpillars they only eat white flowers and as adults they deliberately seek out white bird droppings for the chemicals they provide.

The next time you see an Azure, forget the name and pay attention to its antics.  Follow the wandering course of an individual for more than a minute or two and you’ll note that it drops down to inspect every white object on the ground. White feathers, pebbles, and paper scraps are investigated until a choice dropping is located. At that point the long tongue is extended and the feed is on.  Take a closer look at the above picture (see here) and you can see this butterfly is enjoying a simple poo pleasure in a complex world.

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