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Lepidoptera of North America 13. Flower visitation by Colorado butterflies (40,615 Records) with a review of the literature on pollination of Colorado plants and butterfly attraction (Lepidoptera: Hesperioidea and Papilionoidea)




Scott, James A., author
C.P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity, publisher

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I present 40,615 of my records of visits of adult butterflies (LEPIDOPTERA: Papilionoidea, Hesperioidea) to flowers and other food/water sources. Part I arranges the records by butterfly species to determine the flowers/foods most often visited by each butterfly species. Most butterflies visit a wide range of colors and types of flowers, with fewer visits to red at least in part because of a shortage of red flowers in the Colorado flora (subtropical/tropical butterflies evidently visit red more often, as demonstrated by hundreds of literature records for Phoebis sennae). But some butterflies show very different restricted preferences. Butterflies often visit numerous flowers that lack a “landing platform”, as their legs are capable of landing on any type of flower, so a landing platform is not necessary. Most popular flowers have a clustered inflorescence, though some do not. All Colorado butterflies prefer flowers that are in floral displays of clusters or closely joined together; none prefer solitary flowers. Short-proboscis butterflies are limited to smaller flowers. Lycaenidae mostly visit yellow and white flowers, probably in part because of a greater frequency of yellow and white colors among flowers that are small enough for their short proboscis. Long-proboscis butterflies can recycle abdominal fluid to dissolve dung for food, and they visit red flowers more often. Butterfly flight height partly determines which flowers can be visited. Apocynaceae (Apocynum and Asclepias) flowers sometimes kill butterflies by catching their proboscis. Females frequently sip mud, so it is a myth that butterflies visit mud only to get sodium; many visit mud to rehydrate. Part II arranges the records by flower species, and includes flower species that are common but not visited, to determine which flowers are attractive to butterflies and which are not. Although butterflies in general are not very particular in their flower choice (especially regarding flower color and ultraviolet pattern and size and shape), most of the pretty flowers in nature are seldom or never visited by butterflies, which seems to mean that floral scent is important in both attracting and repelling butterflies to flowers. The most popular plant family for butterflies is Asteraceae, in which most genera are popular. Other very popular flowers are Asclepias, Apocynum, Verbena, Monarda, Buddleja, Eriogonum, Sedum lanceolatum, Erysimum, Jamesia, some legumes including Medicago sativa, Lythrum, Cnidoscolus, Ceanothus, Aesculus, many Lamiaceae, Penstemon, and Lobelia siphilitica. Popular “butterfly flowers” merely must have white or visibly-bright colors, diurnal flowering, adequate but not strong floral scent, sufficient sugar concentration, and adequate access for the proboscis; nothing else seems necessary. Butterflies that visit sap and rotting fruit mostly belong to groups within Nymphalidae that display this behavior worldwide, while dung and carrion feeding occur in all the major taxa of butterflies. The chemical compounds attracting butterflies to flowers are reviewed and discussed, and specific chemicals attracting them to sap, rotting fruit, carrion, dung, etc. are successfully pinpointed from the literature. Known pollinators are listed for the Colorado plants that are popular and not popular with butterflies. Very few if any Colorado plants seem to be primarily pollinated by butterflies (most are pollinated by bees), and evidently no plants would become extinct if butterflies were not available to pollinate them. Thus Colorado butterflies are generally only occasional pollinators of flowers. Much more work needs to be done on the floral scents that attract butterflies.


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Butterflies -- Colorado
Butterflies -- Pollination
Butterflies -- Attraction


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