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Category: Animal Behavior

Impacts of millennium drought on butterfly faunal dynamics

Butterflies are flying colored wing insects that vary in color and pattern from individual to another individual. It has wings covered with overlapping rows of scales. Most of butterflies have developed mechanisms to   avoid predators making disguise coloration blending like leaf or bark of the tree. Some releases chemicals as a defense mechanism wherein butterfly evolved to have toxic chemicals. But recent finding due to extreme weather events and trend linked to ongoing anthropogenic climate change species shifts its dynamics. Droughts occur more often in larger spatial scale which has an effect on insects. Generally, drier and warmer climatic conditions have an impact either positive or negative to insect populations. The aim of this research is to address the knowledge gap using multi-decadal dataset of 163 butterfly species. All of this butterflies experienced millennium-scale drought.


Impacts of droughts on Butterflies

To know the faunal dynamics, investigation of phenology, species richness and diversity with its elevation gradient has been conducted. In which linear model used to understand differential sensitivity of butterflies to climate change at low and high elevation. A decade of dataset of 163 butterfly species across elevational gradient in Northern California has been considered. Results showed that a prolonged shift towards spring flight during drought years and change in phenology is evident across elevations. It also happened that the total flight window expanded at lower elevations while at higher elevation shifted and compressed. This leads the notion that fewer overall flight days at higher sites.


The millennium drought in California created across site with elevation-specific changes in flight windows and species richness. This resiliency reveals that lowest elevations are less detrimental than biotic-abiotic association at higher elevations. Most of the researchers hypothesized a mismatch between trophic levels as a result of climate change. But, results of butterflies from low elevation would suggest that at consumer trophic level need not always have negative impacts. Additionally, species at lowest elevations have access to agricultural lands though irrigation does not correlate the population dynamics during drought. Thus, there is a possibility that low elevation population buffered by irrigated crops or agricultural margin during drought.


Indeed, that at high elevation butterflies declined in number and become sensitive to dry years with warmer temperatures. Contrary to the theory that mountains offer microclimatic refugia and adapt species for climatic changes. It has been known that high latitude environments are warming faster with negative consequences to several species. But positive or have a neutral effect for other species. Consequently, this research suggests more thorough investigation about organismal responses to extreme weather. As well as on the extent wherein different habitat type may or may not buffer species populations against climate change.


Source: Prepared by Joan Tura from Springer BMC Climate Changes Responses

Volume 5:3 26 January 2018

Tracking the migration of Whip-poor-will in Americas

Eastern whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferous) is continuously declining due to habitat loss and unavailability of insects for food. Little is known about whip-poor-will migration because of their nocturnal quite habit during non-breeding season. At high latitude 80% avian species are migratory wherein factors affecting migration includes predators, anthropogenic threats and pathogens. Migratory strategies allows individual to track seasonal changes mostly for temperate breeding aerial insectivores. However, population declines among temperate insectivore birds due to extreme weather condition, cost of migration and reliance on sensitive prey. In addition it is important to determine the migratory routes, year round habitat requirement and temporal constraints of threatened species.


Geolocator deployment of Whip-poor will

There were 20 males and 2 females of whip-poor-will have been tracked using geolocators in four regions of Canada. The study shows that this species breed more in northern part than southern breeding population and experienced different wintering conditions. Also a high migratory cost happens such as novel threats, energy expenditure and the ability to adjust time in tracking breeding ground condition.  In contrast, both eastern and western breeding individuals wintered together wherein mostly concentrated in Guatemala and some provinces of Mexico. However, male often have higher benefits of early arrival on the breeding grounds thus accept higher cost of wintering further. Additionally, early arrival on breeding grounds is more advantageous on whip-poor-will males allowing occupation on higher quality territories.


On the other hand female whip-poor-will forced to migrate further on lower latitude with less competition and more abundant resources. Most of this species travel overland through Mexico and Central America. However, only two individuals flights across portion of the Gulf of Mexico during autumn and spring. It just shows that this pattern is the response to prevailing winds and availability of resources along different route. Also more species migrating along Eastern North America, South and Central America over ocean flights during autumn. While in spring more species taking longer over land route around western side of the Gulf of Mexico.


Therefore, geolocators is helpful in identifying wintering areas, stopovers and migratory route of whip-poor-will. These migratory stopovers in the southeastern and central United States as well as in southern Mexico and Central America are both important for the whip-poor-will species. Finally, habitat protection and insect population might increase the number of these species despite pressures of long migrations and climate changes.


Source: Prepared by Joan Tura from Springer BMC Zoology

Volume 2:5, 2017

Thanatosis – Faking Death To Escape Doom

Thanatosis — pretending to be dead — is one of the best strategies that certain wild animals came up with in order to survive. Since the prey is usually inferior to its predator, it must use wit to its advantage. When all else seems futile, thanatosis seems the only way to go.




Thanatosis – what is it?

Thanatosis, colloquially speaking, is playing dead. It is a behavior manifested by certain animals to deceive their predators. Running away could have been the best option but when cornered the animal has to make a hasty decision between fighting back and feigning death. In certain situations, thanatosis works; it proves to be more useful than battling it out in the rubble. Not only does it make the animal save up precious energy but it also buys time to figure out a route with higher chances of escape. Instead of forcing a way out, thanatosis applies trickery, i.e. by deceptively submitting to the opponent only to seize the right opportunity to escape when it comes.




Thanatosis and predation

Several animals use thanatosis to facilitate escape. For instance, a threatened Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) initially displays an intimidating pose. It raises its head off the ground, hiss, and strike. When the threat display fails, the snake engages its opponent to a dramatic performance of thanatosis. As if poisoned and about to die, the snake rolls onto its back, shudders, and hangs out its tongue. Not only will it look dead… it will also smell dead when it releases a foul-smelling fluid from its cloaca.1

The phrase “playing possum” stems from the thanatosis behavior of Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana). When it senses extreme danger, it appears dead similar to a comatose state. Out of great fear, it lies on its side with eyes and mouth open and tongue hanging out. It releases a greenish fluid that smells rotten through its anus. This thanatosis display causes the deterrence of predators. A prey that died suddenly seemed like something went wrong and eating it might lead to trouble.

“playing possum”


Unfortunately, there are also predators that utilize thanatosis to deceive preys. Cichlids (Nimbochromis sp.), for instance, act dead by not moving so that an unsuspecting prey will be lured closer, and therefore get a better chance of capturing it.




Thanatosis to evade sexual cannibalism

Apart from evading a predator, certain animals use thanatosis to deceive an aggressive female to mate with. Mating in some spiders can be a dangerous activity. The female spiders attack the male spiders to feed on them after sex. This devouring of another individual of the same species before, during, or after copulation is called sexual cannibalism. While there are spiders that welcome it (read: The Amazing Spider Dads), other spiders attempt to circumvent it. For instance, the male wolf spiders perform thanatosis to avoid ending up as a meal after copulating.2 The male nursery web spiders (Pisaura mirabilis) also resort to thanatosis but apart from it they also do nuptial gift-giving during courtship rituals. In a study by Hansen et al.3, the male spiders that played dead had more success in mating with hostile females and stayed alive right after.




In the wild, resorting to thanatosis to survive is not uncommon. At the edge of demise, these animals enact the greatest performance of their lives. They appear to have died a disturbing death to mislead predators. Who prefers a spoiled meat? Most predators want their meal fresh; hence, they may no longer find a prey looking repulsive and smelling putrid appetizing. Thanatosis proves its invaluable use as an anti-predation strategy. Besides that, animals playing dead for sex and evading cannibalism demonstrate that thanatosis is tantamount to surviving — die to live!



— written by Maria Victoria Gonzaga




FrankSnakes. (2012). Eastern Hognose (Heterodon platirhinos) Playing Dead. Retrieved from
2 Seriously Science. (2016). Male spiders play dead to avoid “sexual cannibalism.” Retrieved from
3 Hansen, L.S., Gonzales, S. F., Toft, S., & Bilde, T. (2008).Thanatosis as an adaptive male mating strategy in the nuptial gift–giving spider Pisaura mirabilis. Behavioral Ecology, Volume 19, Issue 3, 1 May 2008, Pages 546–551. Retrieved from