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NATURE: Sex, Lies And Butterflies

Airs Wednesday, May 27, 2020 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV + Sunday, May 31 at 8 p.m. on KPBS 2 + KPBS Passport

Birdwing butterflies mating. Deerfield, Mass.

Credit: Courtesy of Ann Johnson Prum / © THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Above: Birdwing butterflies mating. Deerfield, Mass.

Explore the amazing abilities of butterflies – from their deceptive camouflage and chemical weaponry to fantastic flight and more. Butterflies have been making our planet more interesting and beautiful for more than 50 million years, and today a dazzling array of nearly 20,000 different species inhabit the globe.

NATURE “Sex, Lies And Butterflies” follows the lives of these incredible and important insects from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to the emergence of the mature winged creature.

Sex, Lies and Butterflies: Preview

Explore the astounding abilities of butterflies – deceptive camouflage, chemical weaponry, and fantastic flight. Look beyond their bright colors and fragile beauty as you follow them on one of the greatest migrations on Earth.

This vibrant new NATURE special explores the astonishing survival techniques of butterflies, including their 360° vision, deceptive camouflage, chemical weaponry, and fantastic flight across continents.

Through sophisticated macro-filming, viewers get a rare glimpse beyond the butterflies’ bright colors and fragile beauty as they follow them on one of the greatest migrations on Earth.

RELATED ARTICLE: 6 Tips to Beckon a Bevy of Butterflies

The Remarkable Way that Butterflies Mate

Butterflies have a remarkable method for mating. See how these incredible insects reproduce.

Featured Species:

  • Painted Ladies
  • Eastern tiger swallowtails
  • Monarchs
  • Pipevine swallowtails
  • Adelotypa annulifera

Baby Caterpillar Hatches from Tiny Butterfly Egg

When born, baby caterpillars are smaller than a grain of rice. In their microscopic world, even the tiniest obstacles prove to be a challenge.

Noteworthy Facts:

  • All butterflies share a single, genetic ancestor – a small brown moth that lived more than 50 million years ago.
  • Butterflies are actually moths – about 20,000 species of them – and inhabit every continent on the planet except Antarctica.
  • Though the flight pattern of butterflies seems totally random, their oversized wings act like an enormous rudder, enabling them to soar with complete control.
  • The eyes of a Painted Lady butterfly, whose habitat spans Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa, contain more than 30,000 lenses.
  • A butterfly uses its tube-like tongue – or proboscis – to feed. It uncoils its proboscis and sucks up liquid nourishment using a micro-pump in its head.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Mark Carroll / © THIRTEEN Productions LLC

A butterfly's eyes and coiled-up proboscis, the insect's "tongue," Tambopata, Peru.

Buzzworthy Moments:

  • Jesse Barber of Boise State University and Akito Kawahara of the Florida Museum of Natural History recently discovered that some moths emit sounds pitched at the same frequencies as bats’ sonar, “jamming” the bats’ method of hunting them.
  • Recorded for only the third time ever, a butterfly pollinates a flower using its wings, instead of its proboscis.
  • Several species of butterfly utilize tricky survival techniques to escape predation, including eating noxious plants, mimicking the spots of other poisonous butterflies, or utilizing camouflage.
  • Scientists reveal the unique relationship that Adelotypa annulifera caterpillars have with multitudes of ferocious ants, who nurture and guard them as they feed on nectar from young bamboo plants.
  • From Africa to Scandinavia and back, Painted Ladies were discovered to have traveled about 9,000 miles roundtrip, completing the longest migration of any insect ever discovered.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Ann Johnson Prum / © THIRTEEN Productions LLC

A Heliconius butterfly in Mindo, Ecuador.


This episode is available to stream on demand with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members supporting KPBS at $60 or more yearly, using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.


NATURE is on Facebook, Tumblr and you can follow @PBSNature on Twitter. #NaturePBS #SexlLiesandButterflies

Photo credit: Courtesy of Ann Johnson Prum / © THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Close-up of a Postman butterfly gathering pollen, Deerfield, Mass.


NATURE is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and PBS. For NATURE, Fred Kaufman is Executive Producer. Bill Murphy is series producer. “Sex, Lie and Butterflies” is a production of Terra Mater Factual Studios and Coneflower Productions in co-production with THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET. The documentary is produced and directed by Ann Johnson Prum. Narrated by Paul Giamatti. Edited by Jim Isler. Written by Janet Hess. Cinematography by Mark Carroll, Russell Kaye and Ann Johnson Prum. Original Music by David Mitcham. Ivo Filatsch and Sabine Holzer - Terra Mater Factual Studios" are executive producers for Terra Mater Factual Studios.

Filming Beautiful Butterfly Footage

Learn how the "Sex, Lies and Butterflies" filmmakers captured their incredible footage.


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