Tracking butterfly flight paths across the landscape with harmonic radar

Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Apr 22;272(1565):785-90. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2004.3002.


For the first time, the flight paths of five butterfly species were successfully tracked using harmonic radar within an agricultural landscape. Until now, butterfly mobility has been predominantly studied using visual observations and mark-recapture experiments. Attachment of a light-weight radar transponder to the butterfly's thorax did not significantly affect behaviour or mobility. Tracks were analysed for straightness, duration, displacement, ground speed, foraging and the influence of linear landscape features on flight direction. Two main styles of track were identified: (A) fast linear flight and (B) slower nonlinear flights involving a period of foraging and/or looped sections of flight. These loops potentially perform an orientation function, and were often associated with areas of forage. In the absence of forage, linear features did not provide a guiding effect on flight direction, and only dense treelines were perceived as barriers. The results provide tentative support for non-random dispersal and a perceptual range of 100-200 m for these species. This study has demonstrated a methodology of significant value for future investigation of butterfly mobility and dispersal.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Butterflies / physiology*
  • England
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Flight, Animal*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Radar
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Telemetry