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Sex, Lies and Butterflies

Synopsis

Moths, butterflies and caterpillars are packets of protein that fuel the natural world. Everything tries to eat them; to birds and spiders, reptiles and small mammals, they are convenient packages of delicious and nutritious food. In response, butterflies and moths evolved a fascinating and intriguing range of tricks and disguises to deter potential predators.
These delicate creatures seem so fragile, yet they are the planet’s tiny superheroes, masters of deception and escape. This documentary explores their world as never before, with new science unlocking their secrets, revealing their amazing survival techniques and forever changing our view of these fantastic creatures.

Moths and butterflies undergo one of the most miraculous transformations in the animal kingdom during their life cycle. They can fly thousands of kilometres at astonishing altitude and with unbelievable speed. They can be brilliantly coloured, generating stunning iridescence from the nano-structure of their wings – and they communicate with each other, using exotic chemicals.

In South America, several species of butterflies completely deceive birds and other animals with their mimicry. Others have co-evolved with flowers to distribute pollen – and the Green Hairstreak Butterfly has even struck a special deal with a species of ant, so that both parties gain from the partnership.

Moths and butterflies have been flying around the planet for over 130 million years, and today 28,000 different species inhabit the globe. We explore why they have been so successful, and follow the amazing changes they undergo during their lives – from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to the emergence of the spectacular winged creature.

Even at the beginning of their life cycle, some butterflies can protect themselves. Newly hatched caterpillars ingest toxic chemicals from their host plants, and advertise how toxic they are with gaudy colours and repellent hairs – which keep most predators away. Eventually, a caterpillar turns into a chrysalis, and the next metamorphosis is not long in coming. A few weeks later, a beautiful butterfly or moth emerges, fluttering into the world.

With fascinating new experiments, scientists are beginning to understand how butterflies and moths see, how they avoid their predators, and why their flight technique is so different from that of birds.
And we now know the Painted Lady has overtaken the Monarch to hold the record for the longest migration of all the butterflies. It covers 15,000 kilometres on its round trip from Northern Africa to the Arctic Circle, nearly twice the distance of the Monarchs’ famous journey.


BEHIND THE SCENES:

Read more about Coneflower Studios filming the Painted Lady butterflies in Morocco.