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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Creature Feature: Alpine Black Swallowtail Butterfly.

Raise your hand if you are interested in Japanese literature. I do not mean manga. I mean actual literature. There is a short story called The Lady Who Loved Insects. Read it. It describes the author of this post to a T.  Want my life story? Read that. The main character keeps snakes and caterpillars. My kinda girl, there.

Japan would know about people with an avid interest in nature. Apparently, even when that short story was written, people had an amazing interest in biology. The Heian lady there was very well aware that all of her fuzzy caterpillars would turn into butterflies, and even went so far as to let them outside and sit on a fan decorated with Chinese poetry. Given that Japan has one of the most beautiful butterflies in the world, however, one can hardly blame her for liking caterpillars.



The Alpine Black Swallowtail (Papilio maackii) is native to Japan, China, and Korea, even peeking into Russia. As caterpillars, they eat prickly ash and Amur cork leaves. Their favorite nectar as adults comes from various orange trees. Most importantly, however, they are drop-dead gorgeous as butterflies. (The caterpillars don't seem to be particularly impressive. Someone prove me wrong.)

Unlike in many species of...well, animals in general, the female is more brightly colored than the male. The women have more blue in their scales while the males are a duller green. Both sexes still look iridescent and worthy of the name "peacock." Unfortunately, that belongs to another butterfly (Inachus io).



Swallowtails in general have some weird mating habits. Large groups of females will form around one male in hills.  They're mostly virgins, although how entomologists figure this out I have no idea. Anyhow, they perform a courtship dance. The male, once he has picked his favorite, literally plugs her with his sperm inside so that no other man may have her. Shame mammals are not that efficient; sperm plugs could put Jerry Springer out of business.



Feel like you've heard of this one before? If you've ever played Animal Crossing, the "peacock butterfly" is in that game. Don't get confused; they mean this one, not the one with "Io" in its species name. (Not that I mind the Greek references.)

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