Written by Lucy Brzoska
You don’t have to look for Two-tailed Pashas, they will find you. A friend had described the exact scene of a very close encounter with this sultan of butterflies last year. It was now late August, the heat had abated slightly, so I headed straight there.
A tiny Praying mantis was a distraction on the way, sitting on top of a seeding Matabou umbel.
When I reached the remote, unvisited location, deep within Collserola, nothing stirred except for a boar, who was trundling through the bushes, before emerging to cross the track and disappearing into an overgrown gully. The habitat was perfect: shrubby open woodland on a high ridge, with lots of strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo – the Pasha’s food plant), so I decided to sit down, eat some breakfast and see what turned up.
Within minutes I’d been spotted. The Pasha flew fast around my head, inspected the camera on my lap, and then stuck its proboscis into my sandwich. It was immediately whipped out again, as if in distaste – uggh! So where’s my rum-soaked rotten banana?
The butterfly then flew up to its vantage point high up in a pine tree, where it remained a while, until giving chase to another Pasha. The rival had staked out an adjoining territory, which it surveyed from a small oak tree.
It sallied down to some faeces in a holly oak bush. It ignored me, absorbed in feeding, using a startlingly red proboscis, which I’ve never seen before (aren’t they usually black?). The beautiful tapestry of the underwings countered the pong of the food matter.
Still trespassing, I was subjected to another prolonged attack. Intensely beating butterfly wings can only tickle, but the determination with which the Pasha repeatedly charged towards me made me want to duck. Then it started sucking at the sweat on my arm, and sat on my shoulder for a while. Who cared where it might’ve perched before.
Their fearless nature and love of alcohol can get the Two-tailed Pashas into trouble. A video on Youtube shot by a holidaymaker somewhere on the Med shows one drinking spilt beer on the table, and then falling to the ground when attempting to fly.