Maddy (my four-year-old) and I had been in the woods at Harmons Den checking on some bird points. We came out of the woods at the Harmons Den Horse Camp. At the intersection of Cold Springs Road (FS Rd. 148) and the entrance to the horse camp (FS Rd. 3526) there is an open area with picnic tables and a small gravel parking area. The horse camp road and the parking area were literally covered with butterflies. There were dozens of groups of butterflies of 10 or more on the ground and scores of more butterflies wafting, hovering and fluttering around.
This was the weekend after Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day weekend had been quite busy at Harmons Den with riders and their equine friends enjoying the many trails. The musky aroma of horse – sweat, urine and manure – still lingered and the butterflies were loving it.
Now some women hold in contempt what many males of the species consider, if not epicurean delights – at least tasty staples- things like cold pizza and warm beer or orange juice out of the carton. Well male butterflies take these gourmand tendencies to a completely different level. Horse sweat appetizer followed by sun-baked manure accompanied by chateau equine urine, 2010 is a menu that male butterflies would (and may) die for.
And you know what, ladies? We do it all for you. In the case of the human species it’s more an act of consideration – like cleaning out the fridge, getting rid of left-over beer or not dirtying the dishes. But in the case of the butterfly it’s all about survival of the species.
While nectar provides nourishment and sugar, it is sorely lacking in the kind of nutrients needed for reproduction. Male butterflies – being male, after all, take it upon themselves to gather these salts and minerals. These salts and minerals may be obtained in small quantities from sources like rotting fruit, tree sap, wet soil and dead plants. But none of these sources come close to the motherload of minerals offered by urine, feces and/or carrion.
The male ingests these nutrients and then transfers them to the female in the form of spermataphores during copulation. These spermataphores enhance the viability of the female’s eggs helping to insure the survival of the species.
This act of congregating at one spot, whether it is a puddle, a moist area, a pile of dung or some carrion is known as puddling. Puddling is a male trait and while it is serious business for the species, the butterflies appear to shun the gravity of the situation an seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves – like when your boyfriend or husband is on the couch eating cold pizza and drinking warm beer and watching the Lakers and Celtics in the NBA Championship.
One name for a group of butterflies is a kaleidoscope. Kaleidoscope seems quite appropriate for the colorful congregation of butterflies Maddy and I encountered which included eastern tiger swallowtails, red-spotted purples, eastern commas, question marks, summer (I think) azures and red admirals.
Because of the open areas, nearby woods and availability of horse-nutrients, the area around the Harmons Den Horse Camp is Lepidoptera heaven. To get there, take I-40 west to the Harmons Den exit (exit 7). Turn right onto Cold Springs Road. It’s about 3.7 miles to the entrance (FS road 3526) to the horse camp. The open area and parking lot are on your left at the intersection.