May I join you, dear lady? (1+2)

Marjolein Katsma

Groningen, Netherlands

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Share this page Photo and text © 2010 Marjolein Katsma

Tags for this photograph:
nature, butterfly, mating, netherlands, photoshoot, courtship, heliconius, photo shoot, heliconius erato, luttelgeest, orchideeënhoeve, orchideeenhoeve, courtship display, mating behavior

One butterfly (Heliconius erato) sitting on a flower, wings spread wide, the abdomen curled up. Above it, another individual of the same species is fluttering wildly, every now and then approaching the other, then resuming the fluttering.

I cannot be 100% sure and I know there are a lot of variations in butterfly mating behavior, but it seemed to me I was witnessing a bit of mating behavior here, with the male doing its courtship display flight for the female below him. There’s a good, generic description of this behavior here:


A male butterfly has several methods of determining whether he has found a female of his own species. One way is by sight. The male will look for butterflies with wings that are the correct color and pattern. When a male sights a potential mate it will fly closer, often behind or above the female. Once closer, the male will release special chemicals, called pheromones, while it flutters its wings a bit more than usual. The male may also do a special “courtship dance” to attract the female. These “dances” consist of flight patterns that are peculiar to that species of butterfly. If the female is interested she may join the male’s dance. They will then mate by joining together end to end at their abdomens. During the mating process, when their bodies are joined, the male passes sperm to the female. As the eggs later pass through the female’s egg-laying tube, they are fertilized by the sperm. The male butterfly often dies soon after mating.

But there’s something funny going on here… According to the Tree of Life page about the Heliconius genus, [an] unusual trait found in some Heliconius species is a unique mating behaviour known as pupal-mating. Males of certain species search larval food plants for female pupae. The males then sit on the pupae a day before emergence, and mating occurs the next morning, before the female has completely eclosed… But while this does apply to Heliconia erato in the wild, it will be different for most of these butterflies in this hothouse: the pupae are collected and carefully tended to in pupae cabinets, from where the butterflies are released as soon as they emerge; it would be rare if a male emerges soon enough to catch a female also just emerging before either is released. So the males will have to do their fluttery dance to convince the females of their prowess…

I managed to get two shots (see below), with the fluttering (male) butterfly above with its wings in different phases of their movement.

Thanks to Johan for informing me what species this is!

Taken during our RedBubble photoshoot in De Orchideeënhoeve

Taken in Luttelgeest, Netherlands 2010-02-20
Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

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May I join you, dear lady? (1)

May I join you, dear lady? (2)

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May I join you, dear lady? (1) May I join you, dear lady? (2) May I join you, dear lady? (1+2)

Artwork Comments

  • Bobby Dar
  • Marjolein Katsma
  • angeljootje
  • Marjolein Katsma
  • DutchLumix
  • Marjolein Katsma
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  • Jurmale
  • Marjolein Katsma
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