By: Wendy Langhans
Q. What do drinking straws and paper towels have in common?
A. They employ techniques similar to those used by feeding butterflies.
Anyone who watches butterflies is familiar with how they feed, moving delicately from flower to flower, landing, pausing, and extending their tongue-like proboscis into the floral nectary. Here’s an example of a Grey Hairstreak at work.
This Gray Hairstreak butterfly uses the same technique we do when we drink from a straw – creating a differential in air pressure that pulls the liquid up from the glass (or nectary) into our mouth. The amount of differential depends on the viscosity of the fluid. Sometimes we sip daintily, as when we savor a fizzy soft drink. And sometimes we pucker our cheeks and suck, as when we devour a thick, frosty chocolate milkshake.
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But unlike our plastic straw, a butterfly’s proboscis is not a solidly sealed cylinder. One side of the proboscis consists of overlapping plates that seal together like a zipper. (Click here to see a 800X magnified photo.) The butterfly places the side of their proboscis against or within the food source and the moist food seeps inside through capillary action, much like a paper towel soaks up a spill.
This could explain how they obtain nutrients from another favorite source of food – fresh or rotting fruit. And it could explain the mechanism behind puddling – feeding on mud puddles or wet sand or dirt – which is how butterflies obtain needed salt and minerals. Here’s a photo of a group of Pipevine Swallowtails “puddling” in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Today, plastic straws and paper towels can be found in almost every kitchen in our Santa Clarita Valley. But while butterflies have been around for at least 130 million years, paper straws were patented in 1888 and the first paper towel was developed in 1907. So I think an argument can be made that butterflies, and not paper towels, are the original “Quicker Picker-Uppers”.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, March 7, 14, 21 & 28.
Saturday mornings, March 17 & 24.
Saturday, March 17 18, 8-10 AM. Up with the birds. Check out the unique migratory birds as they travel north with our in-house birder, Volunteer Naturalist Roger. Beginners are welcome on this easy walk. Bring binoculars. Meet at Towsley Canyon’s front parking lot. For a map and directions, click here.
Sunday, March, 10 AM – 12 PM. A Celebration of Spring Wildflowers. Towsley Canyon is the perfect place to see this year’s splendid wildflower display. Revel in the beautiful colors of spring. Meet at Towsley Canyon’s front parking lot. For a map and directions, click here.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
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