Love is in the air. Literally.
The Montreal Botanical Garden presents the 14th edition of "Butterflies Go Free," which is held indoors at the main exhibition greenhouse through April 25. This year's event theme highlights the art of butterfly seduction.
"When you enter the main greenhouse, for sure we are charmed by the butterflies," said Marika D'Eschambeault, Montreal Insectarium nature educator. "But the butterflies are not just crazy little insects flying around. As they emerge from the chrysalis, they are accomplishing very important roles in their adult stage."
And these butterflies pretty much have one thing on their tiny minds.
"Their only goal from that moment on will be reproduction."
Granted, on their quest to find a mate, the butterflies indeed enjoy some nourishment along the way from a steady diet of sliced fruit placed all about the greenhouse as well as from the nectar provided by hundreds of colorful spring blossoms.
Rules of attraction
The butterfly world mimics that of our own, D'Eschambeault said, as it's mostly the males that take the first step in courtship.
"They will perch somewhere and wait for a female to come by," she said. "They will be attracted to anything that resembles their favorite color."
At this point the male butterfly will check to see if the attraction is indeed the appropriate gender and species, and not your bright blue or red T-shirt. Some butterflies, such as the blue morpho, act as patrollers.
"They fly around a lot because they tend to be a little aggressive to other males in their territories."
Once the blue morpho finds a female close by, it offers a scent.
"This is to entice the female toward reproduction," D'Eschambeault said.
These odors are their personal mark of attraction.
"The scent tells the female that the butterfly is the right match as far as species go, and it also lets the female know that this male is better than the others," D'Eschambeault said.
The female, in turn, first judge the male by its bright colors. But there's one more important step.
"There's the dance, the nuptial flight."
The males will then "dance" for the females.
"The dance is kind of like a choreography, a conversation between two butterflies," D'Eschambeault said. "If the male moves his wing one way, the female offers the same movement."
And if the male performs according to the female's liking, she'll probably say yes.
"She has the last word."
'People can relate'
So, the male makes the first move, offers a colorful courtship, and the female has the last word — sounds like a few friends I know. That's the reaction from many visitors, D'Eschambeault said.
"That's the cool thing about the subject this year. People really relate to it," D'Eschambeault said. "The bigger point is that these butterflies show how all animals allocate their time and energy to find the right mate."
As with humans, the butterfly art of seduction varies. For example, the owl butterfly concentrates its mate-finding energy mostly at night and with a different scent than the rest of its greenhouse occupants. And that perfumed scent goes a long way. In the case of the cobra moth, the scent can travel up to 5 miles.
The butterflies on hand — some 15,000 butterflies are released throughout the event with 1,500 to 2,000 butterflies present in the main greenhouse on any given day — will spend their entire lives in Montreal. Any butterflies left at the end of the event get gathered and sent to a greenhouse for a similar exhibition in New Brunswick. The butterflies live from four to 10 days. During their time spent in Montreal, the butterflies have it quite good.
"The conditions are great," D'Eschambeault said. "There are no big rain storms, no heavy winds, no predators, a steady supply of food and a lot of choice to find a mate in a small space. They have a pretty good life here."
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.