Insect Wedding Photography-- Or How a Tired Ol' Male Proved He Wasn't

You're heard these idioms:

  • The early bird gets the worm
  • First come, first served.
  • Johnny-on-the-spot.
  • The second mouse gets the cheese.

But have you ever seen a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) eclose and then see her...well...engaged?

Such was the case on Labor Day, Sept. 3 in our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.

The female (we'll call her "Bride-to-Be") finishes eclosing and is hanging from her empty chrysalis, just drying her wings on the passionflower vine (aptly named) and getting acquainted with her new life stage and leafy surroundings.

Then, whoosh. A suitor (we'll call him "Groom-to-Be") appears out of nowhere. Well, from somewhere, but somewhere quite threatening. He looks tired and worn out, too fragile to fly. (As a colleague said: "He's accumulated a lot of frequent flier miles.") His ragged wings indicate a recent encounter with one or more predators, maybe a bird or a praying mantis.  But he lucked out in the Predator-Prey tally: the final score, Butterfly, 1: Predator 0.

He lucks out again. He's the first to arrive at the altar. Our camera catches the action.

 "In some Heliconius, the males locate female pupae and may even copulate with the female before she ecloses!" commented butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "They are related."

Labor Day, 2018.