|Sara Longwing Butterfly - Heliconius sara |
Captive live butterflies photographed at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago
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The longwing butterflies have unusually long lifespans and high fecundity rates, which largely result from their augmented diet. Instead of surviving on food stores from the larval stage or solely sipping flower nectar, adult longwing butterflies are avid pollen eaters. These trait make them eminently suitable for butterfly farming and butterfly gardening. Also, Adult Longwings may live for several months, much longer than most butterflies.
Within the butterfly habitat at the Notebaert Nature Museum resides a family of butterflies called Longwings (Heliconius). During the day, these active butterflies entertain guests as they fly from flower to flower but little do guests know that each evening, the Longwings participate in another fascinating behavior known as communal roosting.
Circadian communal roosting in butterflies occurs when a number of butterflies gather to rest for the night, typically on a single branch. These communal roosters can be quite numerous and can consist of single or a variety of species. Each evening, the air around the roosting site fills with butterflies as they fly back and forth and work to find an open spot on the roost. The whole process takes about an hour to complete because the new arrivals tend to agitate the butterflies that perched earlier. Unless the roosting site is disturbed, the same butterflies will visit that spot night after night. Strength in numbers is one of the benefits of communal roosting for Longwings. Predators dislike the taste of Longwing butterflies, so if a predator eats from the roost it will quickly learn not to do it again, protecting the group.
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