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Female Butterflies Use Their Wings to Tell Males “Not Available”

Female Butterflies Use Their Wings to Tell Males “Not Available”

Female small copper butterflies have evolved a simple behavior to tell males the equivalent of “stay off.”

Japanese scientist Jun-Ya Ide from the Kurume Institute of Technology in Fukuoka noticed that the female butterflies kept closing their wings when other butterflies flew near them. Dr. Ide says that their wing closing is a way of, in effect, avoiding sexual harassment, as he tells the BBC:

“I also found that she closed the wings at a lower rate when other butterfly species flew nearby,” said Dr Ide. And he set about trying to find out why this might be.

“Persistent mating attempts” from males can harm the delicate females, so Dr Ide thought the females might close their wings as an harassment avoidance strategy.

“He used a model of a male copper butterfly to trigger a reaction in the females.

“When I brought the model close to a mated female, she often closed the wings,” he told BBC Nature.

But, as Dr. Ide observed, virgin females leave their wings open, a signal that they are so to speak “available.”

The female butterflies have evolved a way, it seems, to protect themselves from male butterflies with just a fold of their wings.

Dr. Ide’s research is published in the journal Ethology. Below is a video of a small copper butterfly sucking nectar from a dandelion.


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Photo by Deanster1983.

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11:28AM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

Guess the "Honey, I have a headache" just isn't going to cut it anymore. hahaha Going to start flapping my arms and show my husband just how delicate I can be!

4:54AM PDT on Jun 21, 2011

Beautiful! Noted with interest.

8:19AM PDT on Jun 8, 2011

Amanda M complains: I wanted to find some kind of ring at the jewelry store that said "I've taken myself off the market, so don't even think about hitting on me!" Unfortunately, there's no such ring on the market.

Yes, there is, Amanda. It's called a wedding ring. You don't have to be married to wear one.

12:53PM PDT on Jun 5, 2011


3:00PM PDT on Jun 2, 2011

Interesting article. Thanks for posting.

11:48AM PDT on Jun 2, 2011

Too bad it couldn't be that simple with Humans!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

8:46AM PDT on Jun 1, 2011


7:40AM PDT on Jun 1, 2011

Some human butterflies could do well to learn this technique - it could save a few unwanted pregnancies.

9:12PM PDT on May 31, 2011

thanks for the information. very interesting.

7:05PM PDT on May 31, 2011

Very interesting article. It's interesting to see how other species deal with their sexual issues. Thanks.

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