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Butterfly Storylines

Updated on June 8, 2014

More Than Just Plants and Insects

There is a fair amount of information on making and tending a butterfly garden. There is also a fair amount of information on the life cycle of individual butterfly species. To the uniformed, this would seem to be about the extent of keeping a butterfly garden. However, talk to any butterfly gardener and they will tell you of all kinds of dynamics amongst the butterflies and insects in the garden. It all makes for daily entertainment. Like breeds of dogs and cats, one can count on specific characteristics from certain butterfly species, not to mention the differences between the sexes. This article features a short video showing three different butterfly species interacting. To the casual observer, it would look like a bunch of butterflies flying around, but read on to understand the characters is this melodrama play.

Zebra Longwing
Zebra Longwing
Polydamas Swallowtail
Polydamas Swallowtail

Introducing the Characters

Protagonist (Main Character) : Zebra longwing (female). She flies slow and deliberate. She is a tropical species and Florida's state butterfly.

Counterpart: Polydamas swallowtail (female). She is constantly active, never stops moving her wings.

Antagonist: Monarch (male). He is a constant glider always protecting his territory. Monarchs are also tropical.

Antagonist Turned Hero: Polydamas swallowtail (male). He is also constantly active - and looking for love.


There are two species of vines intertwined and growing on a trellis. One vine is the corky stem passion vine. It is the host plant for the zebra longwing. The second vine is a pipe vine. It is the host plant for the polydamas. To the north are robust milkweeds - host plant to monarchs. This is the perfect place for the male monarch to meet girls.

Act I

The scene begins with the female zebra longwing methodically inspecting both vines. She finally singles out the passion vine and lays eggs on it. The eggs will later hatch and her caterpillars will grow as they devour the leaves. She is later joined by the female polydamas who is also seeking a host plant to lay eggs on, only she is looking for the pipe vine. With both vines are so intertwined, both butterflies must interact with each other. Despite two females being on separate tasks, their relationship is cordial and they leave room for each other to work.

Act II

The female polydamas ends her task and leaves the vine for a respite. Immediately, the male polydamas flies over her. In a flurry of romance, he releases a pheromone in the hopes that she will show an interest in him. To no avail, she flatly rejects him. He no doubt becomes insecure and wonders, was it him? Was his approach too strong? Did he use enough pheromone? Did he need to glide more? The fact is, she just finished laying eggs and was too tired. Sh probably had a headache too.


The girls are back to laying eggs. But wait, the male polydamas approaches the female again. Not only does he interrupt the female polydamas from laying eggs, he interrupts the zebra longwing as well. Buddy, never interrupt women when they are on task! They both chase him away.

Act IV

Looming the to north is a patrolling monarch. His is protecting a fine patch of milkweeds and nectar producing pentas. A female monarch is certain to visit this patch at which point he can begin their romance. However, such a fine patch will certainly attract other, competing male monarchs. Patrolling/gliding this patch is essential. Unfortunately, the bravado can be a bit much and he will chase away all the butterflies, dragonflies, even birds and squirrels. In this instance he buzzes the cameraman!

The antics of the nearby male and female polydamas are too much for the monarch. He gives chase to them both. Fearing harm to the love of his (brief) life, the male polydamas counters the monarch and chases him back to the milkweed. Embolded, he goes even farther and chases the monarch entirely from the butterfly garden. He returns triumphantly. Surely his bravery will swoon the female polydamas for a romantic encounter.

Most plays end with the closing act and the audience goes home. In the butterfly garden, the same play will be repeated in about ten minutes.


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