Mud-puddling behavior in tropical butterflies: in search of proteins or minerals?


We experimentally investigated the attraction of adult butterflies to moist soil and dirt places (a behavior termed `mud-puddling') in two species-rich tropical communities on the island of Borneo. At a rain forest site, 227 individuals (46 species) were attracted to the baits, compared to 534 individuals (54 species) at a farmland site. With one single exception, all attracted butterflies were males. Of various salt and amino acid solutions, only sodium was accepted, but overall, albumin solutions turned out to be the most attractive puddling resource. Butterfly families differed consistently in their resource preferences. Representatives of the families Papilionidae and Pieridae more often visited NaCl solutions, but still accepted albumin, whereas representatives of the Nymphalidae, Hesperiidae and, in particular, Lycaenidae preferred the protein resource. In experiments using decoys prepared from pinned butterfly specimens, representatives of the Papilionidae and Pieridae were more strongly attracted to baits provided with decoys made from conspicuous, medium-sized yellow Eurema species (Pieridae), whereas dummies made from small, cryptically colored lycaenids (Prosotas and Caleta species) were ineffective. Decoys did not influence the attraction of lycaenid butterflies towards baits. Hence, visual cues play an important role in locating puddling resources for papilionids and pierids, while for lycaenid butterflies searching for nitrogen sources, olfactory cues emitted by decaying organic matter are more likely to be important. The strong attraction of male butterflies to nitrogen-rich resources suggests that, as in the case of sodium, these nutrients may increase reproductive success.

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Received: 5 October 1998 / Accepted: 7 December 1998

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Beck, J., Mühlenberg, E. & Fiedler, K. Mud-puddling behavior in tropical butterflies: in search of proteins or minerals?. Oecologia 119, 140–148 (1999).

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  • Key words Tropical butterflies
  • Protein food
  • Sodium
  • Reproductive biology
  • Visual cues