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Butterfly, the Nectar Feeder

Plants and animals are inseparable and have to compulsorily coexist. Several relationships have evolved between the two, and one of them is interlinked with pollination in plants. Pollination is the spread of pollen from one plant to another, which is essential for plant reproduction. There are several methods of pollination, and one of them is pollination by insects.

The plants have many contrivances for this purpose and to attract insects, they use scent, colors and nectar. For the service the insects render, they obtain food from the plants as reward.

Plants seem to choose their pollinators. For example, the butterfly can respond only to sweet smells. Therefore certain plants produce only sweet smelling flowers and are pollinated by butterflies alone. The butterfly is a pure nectar feeder, and therefore the flower has to attract the butterfly in specific ways. This makes a very interesting relationship.

The flower secretes nectar, a sugar rich fluid from the glands located beneath the perianth which is the portion around the base of the pistil. This is the nectar chamber.

While reaching for the nectar, the insect has to invariably touch the plant’s reproductive structures, the anthers and the pistil. Pollination happens.

To enable feed on the nectar, nature has designed exclusive contraptions as mouth parts in the insects. In the butterfly the mouth parts consist of a proboscis that is used to suck up nectar. Usually, the proboscis is held coiled and lodged close to the underside of the head when not in use and when the butterfly is on the forage.

The proboscis is an important tool which is inserted into the nectar chamber of the flower. The butterfly finds it extremely useful especially with smaller flowers and those with narrow passages to reach the nectar.

The butterfly employs the principle of suction, the way a mechanical pump works to siphon out the fluids. The newborn human baby has the natural instinct to suckle the mother’s breast and draw the milk. Adult humans do suction when using the drinking straw to drink the cola.

For the butterfly, the proboscis is its drinking straw. But unlike the use and throw no environment-friendly drinking straws, the butterfly proboscis is a sucking masterpiece.