Sunday, September 5, 2010

Butterflies on Rotting Fruit

When I was in the fifth grade, I was intrigued by butterflies that didn’t seem to ever visit flowers. A neighbor cut some limbs from a tree beside his house and I noticed a swarm of brown butterflies sitting on the sappy stumps. I crawled through the bushes, peeked out at the tree and got my first look at a Question Mark Butterfly. It was a most incredible sight. After chasing me out of the shrubbery several times, the neighbor finally asked me what I was doing. When I explained about the butterflies, he brought out a couple of lawn chairs and we sat quietly watching butterflies drink sap. He also made me promise to stay on the lawn and out of the landscaping.

I was reminded of my youthful adventures when I saw Question Marks feeding on some rotten bananas in the yard. Rotting fruit is a great attractant for many species of butterflies. Question Marks are normally quick to take flight, but an attractive food source makes them less wary.

Several days ago, I put out a bucket of old bananas and apples in order to attract flies to feed to some baby lizards. Opossums and skunks tipped the bucket and scattered the fruit around. Eventually, the fruit got rotten enough that the mammals stopped messing with it. That’s when the butterflies began to take notice. This particular Red-spotted Purple, recognizable by its tattered wing margins, has been here for three days straight. I just wonder if it’s taking time out to mate and get another brood going for next year.

I’ve read about animals getting intoxicated by consuming fermenting fruit. These butterflies might be finding a little hard cider at the center of the rotting apples. They sometimes exhibit some awkward behavior and I watched one fall off its apple.

Red Admirals seem to prefer the nectar of the banana. The skins may be a little bit skunk chewed, but they produce some good tasting juice.

The Hackberry Butterflies seem the most susceptible to the effects of alcohol. This one seems to have temporarily forgotten how to recoil its proboscis. I believe it's the butterfly version of getting stupid.

I hope I haven’t caused these butterflies to become deadbeat members of their species. I know this has been a great year for butterflies, at least here, but we still need every butterfly out there doing its part to make next year even greater.


  1. Love, love, love the post! But then again,I've always had a weakness for rotting fruit photos!

    Awesome butterflies, too!

  2. Steve, you are too funny. But again today, I learned something new by reading your post, and I thank you for that!! ~karen

  3. HI Steve...I see what happened to that bag of butterflies now!! ; }
    I love the fact that you are a humorist, botonist ,and enviromentalist all rolled into one!! : }
    I haven't seen a Question Mark since Renee's days of butterfly collecting!!
    The rotten fruit store is to to funny; But it did provide some great photos!!

  4. Great images. I'm sure your butterflies just loved the brew you provided. ;) I remember fruit being available for the butterflies at the Krohn Conservatory Butterfly show in Cincinnati, too. I think that fruit was a little fresher and surely not as much fun for our little winged friends. ;)


  5. Never seen a question mark in person. And just saw my first 2 commas yesterday and last week. Great post. We plan to set up some butterfly feeding stations with fruit when we are down in Belize in later this fall. Hope it works as well as yours did!

  6. Thanks, Cheryl. I think a couple of rotten pears would have made the mix almost perfect.

    Hi, Karen. I’m glad you find something of value in what I write.

    grammie g – Those butterflies were in no shape to fly all the way to Maine.

    Thanks, Lois – I suppose it would be frowned upon if you got some bananas from the galley and let them rot on deck in hopes of attracting portside butterflies. Of course, I’m no expert on Cruise Ship etiquette.

    Wilma – Your fruit bait should bring in a lot of local butterflies. They should be a colorful lot.

  7. Wonderful post! I just had a fun experience with a cloud of puddling butterflies, so I appreciate your reminder that butterflies aren't just all about pretty flowers.

  8. Thanks, Roberta. A cloud of puddlers can be a wonderful experience. The puddles have all dried here, so I won't be seeing puddling butterflies for a while.