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Nature Notebook – Florida Malachites

They don’t have the body parts or strength to cause physical harm, yet some male butterflies seem determined to maintain a breeding territory. The Florida malachite butterflies in our Butterfly House are good examples.

A few of them have chosen a tree as their “home base.” If any other malachites pass by, they take off in pursuit. They are likely hopeful that they are following a receptive female. However, if their advances are rebuffed, then the romantic dance becomes an aerial acrobatics competition.

The winner returns to the tree, lands and assumes his watchful perch. The loser must find somewhere else to go.

This “perching” is one type of territorial behavior exhibited by butterflies. Another is to patrol an area that has larval food plants that may be attractive to females. Again, if a male finds himself rejected he may view the interloper as a rival and chase “him” away before resuming his patrol flight.