These nine images, which appear here in temporal sequence (from top to bottom), show a male Iberian Marbled White (Melanargia lachesis) butterfly flying around a female. I am not sure exactly what is going on but it looks like the male is trying to court the female with a view to mating.
For butterflies, the process of finding, recognising and attracting a mate usually rests on a combination of sight and scents (i.e. vision and pheromones). The task of finding, or locating a mate is usually carried out by males. Male butterflies can either sit and wait for a female to come to them, or they can actively search for receptive partners. This is what appears to be happening here.
When a male finds a potential mate however, the outcome is not a foregone conclusion and depends on the predilection – receptivity and choosiness – of the female. The male cannot force himself on a female, she must be reproductively receptive – and in some cases, may demonstrate this by specific ‘rejection’ behaviour: for example, spreading her wings and lifting her abdomen (in pierids). She must also respond positively to the bouquet of chemical signals (pheromones) released by the male when he comes close to her. The male which is actively flying around the female in these photographs, may be releasing such pheromones to try to court her. The female opens and shuts her wings a couple of times.
His courtship generally serves to increase her receptivity, but this may take some time and varies from species to species. The pheromones produced by the male provide signals containing a wealth of information by which females can determine his health and status – and hence desirability. In this way, she can make her choice from the pool of available suitors. What the eventual outcome of this snapshot in the courtship dance was, I don’t know. Did she accept or reject him? Who knows. But I hope it is interesting to other people other than butterfly obsessives like myself!
I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.