This morning I was attracted by the sight of a trail of ants going up my oak tree (I'll get back to the butterflies.) I needed to check this out and make sure the ants weren't chewing on my tree, or tending any aphids. I was busy trying to follow the trail of ants around the tree when my husband came out to say good-by in the morning.
I said good-by distractedly, "Sorry, I'm following these ants."
The ants didn't appear to be up to no good and there were no aphids. The ants only wandered around to the ends of each twig and back again. While I was focusing on the tiny ants I was totally missing this sight below being enacted all over the tree:
I almost jumped when my eyes focused on the comparatively enormous butterflies after staring at the ants for so long!
Well the mystery was solved. If you click on the picture to get it bigger, you can actually see the butterflies' tongues sipping sap from the ends of the twigs! I assume that is what the ants were doing too. I'll keep an eye on them though, because I don't trust them.
These butterflies are Hackberry Emperors (don't butterflies have pretentious names? There sure are a lot of Admirals and Emperors in the butterfly world) and they prefer sap to nectar. Who knew?