Why is it that people tend to think of butterflies as angelic creatures? Let’s face it—they’re nothing but bugs with big wings. Even so, they’re universally loved. It’s probably due to the words that are used to describe them—colorful, pretty, and innocent. Butterflies rank right up there with unicorns, fairies, and choirboys. They’re winged beacons of beauty and light.
That being the case, you might find their rap sheet of interest. Turns out they’re not the benign creatures that we’d like to believe. Just like people, many butterflies have a dark side that can include cannibalism, rape, and cyanide poisoning. It’s enough to make Jeffrey Dahmer look like a rank amateur. It would seem butterflies have more in common with “Dexter” than they do with “Touched By An Angel.”
Butterflies begin their lives as small caterpillars with great big appetites. When they run out of food, they happily start to munch on their brothers and sisters.
Then there’s the issue of mating. Heliconius males are on a constant lookout for virgins. The best way to guarantee success is to locate a pupa and perch on it. Four males can gather at a time. There they stay until the female finally emerges. That’s when she’s at her most vulnerable. Her wings haven’t yet opened and she’s still limp as each male quickly takes his turn.
Though that may sound bad, things can get much worse. Some Heliconius males don’t even bother with such niceties. They simply puncture the pupa and mate with the female inside before she’s even had a chance to emerge. In that case, the female is usually injured and dies.
The Monarch butterfly takes a different tact—one that definitely doesn’t include “wining and dining” a prospective mate. Instead, the male wrestles a female from the sky and forces her to the ground where he strokes her with his antennae until she’s sedated. Then he flips her over and they mate in the insect version of date rape. Hey, shouldn’t that be illegal? No wonder the Monarch is known as a thug and referred to as “nature’s male chauvinist pig.”
Ready for some more wonders of the butterfly world? I thought so. How about the butterfly version of a chastity belt? That’s yet another little humdinger. Some male butterflies say their goodbyes by leaving a plug inside the female. Its purpose is to prevent her from mating again. However, that doesn’t work on the Apollo female whose genitalia is external. Don’t worry, no problem. Leave it to the male to have figured out something for that, as well. After mating, he simply glues a large, awkward structure over her abdomen that looks like a girdle. It’s a heavy burden that she’ll have to carry around for the rest of her life.
All in all, butterflies are pretty to look at but no way would I want to be one. The lesson in the butterfly world seems to be crystal clear: it pays to be born a male.