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Where have all the blokes gone?

March 28, 2013
Male Common Brown - R.I.P.

Male Common Brown – R.I.P.

The Common Brown Butterfly (Heteronympha merope) is a common sight in our district at various times of the year. We usually see them on the ground regulating their body temperatures by angling their wings to the sun. In late spring and early autumn the air is thick with males (left) frantically searching the bush for elusive females with which to mate. The females (pictured below) remain hidden in the grass and cool shady areas. And then over summer the Common Browns disappear.

Femail Common Brown - Kicking on

Female Common Brown – Kicking on

Recently we noticed that the Common Browns have again appeared in large numbers. The difference is that now they all appear to be female. Further investigation revealed that after mating in early summer the male butterflies die and the females go into aestivation (the summer equivalent of hibernation in winter). Then from late summer to early autumn the females again become active and begin laying their eggs. Unlike some other butterflies the eggs are not carefully laid on plant leaves but rather are dropped randomly on the future caterpillar food plants (mainly native grasses, Poaceae family).

So if you see a flurry of butterfly activity in the bush it’s just the Common Browns having a “girls’ day out”.

P.S. The Common Browns like most butterflies of the same family have only four legs. There goes my Rule 513 – All insects have six legs (see previous post).

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve Junghenn permalink
    April 2, 2013 6:30 pm

    Hi Guys,
    I was interested to read about the Common Brown Butterfly only having four legs and coming from a Family of butterflies with only four legs.
    It’s an easy trap to fall for as the ‘Family’ that the Common Brown is in, Nymphalidae,are often called the ‘four footed butterflies’.
    They are actually Insects, with six legs, but, butterflies from this family have smaller or reduced forelegs which are used for cleaning their antenae.
    All butterflies belong to the Order ,Lepidoptera, which translates into scaly winged Insects.The presence of overlapping scales on their wings gives them their incredible colours and pattens.
    Therefore,never fear, Rule 513 still stands
    Cheers Steve Junghenn.

    • ronlit permalink*
      April 2, 2013 6:42 pm

      Absolutely right Steve. In this case I let a good story get in the way of the facts. Most (but not all) butterflies of the Nymphalidae family have fore-shortened front legs that make them stand on four legs (with the front two tucked away from normal view). Thank heavens some rules still hold.

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