Saturday, October 16, 2010

Butterfly Time (Part 1)

The seventh annual installment of “Butterfly Magic” opened last Monday at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. The live, flying butterflies (and a few moths) will be occupying the tropical greenhouse through April, 2011, open daily from 9:30 AM until 3:00 PM, save for the obvious holidays.

This year I find myself in the position of Assistant Butterfly Curator, but Dr. Elizabeth Willott, Curator of Butterflies, is the person responsible for the success of this event. We also owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the many volunteers who actually staff the exhibit day in and day out, and who ensure that the butterflies make it from the Chrysalis Room to the greenhouse. More importantly, they make sure no butterflies escape the confines of the greenhouse. They also interpret the exhibit, sharing their knowledge of the insects with visitors and making sure our human guests have a pleasant experience. The volunteers also protect the butterflies from unintentional harm at the hands of overzealous visitors.

Our first shipment of butterfly chrysalids (pupae) arrived Friday, October 1. Elizabeth and I picked them up from the nearby FedEx store where they arrived via overnight shipment from a butterfly distributor in Denver, Colorado. At some point I hope to document the receiving and handling such shipments and sharing that with all of you. It is a very labor-intensive process. October first’s extraordinarily hot temperatures may have spelled doom for many of the specimens in the shipment. We humans were certainly sweating our way through sorting and pinning them. I finished the day pretty dehydrated and a bit light-headed.

The end result is worth the trouble, though. Among our first crop of butterflies was the Danaid Eggfly or “Mimic,” Hypolimnas misippus. The females (see image above) mimic the African Monarch and other distasteful butterflies. The males, on the other hand, look radically different (image below). Yes, those really are the same species!

Among the most populous of our new arrivals is the Mocker Swallowtail, Papilio dardanus. As you might have guessed from the common name this, too, is a species exhibiting dramatic sexual dimorphism. The females lack tails, looking very much like the milkweed butterflies they are impersonating. Males have the familiar “tails” on the wings and are boldly marked with black and white on the top side of the wings. Here is a mating pair (below).

Enjoy this species while you can, as it was denied on our United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) permit this year. Fortunately, that decision was not retroactive to our current permit with our U.S. distributor. We will be unable to import Papilio dardanus directly from its native Africa from now on, however. The caterpillars feed on citrus and are thus deemed a potential threat to that industry.

Yet another spectacular butterfly on show is the Flame-bordered Charaxes, Charaxes protoclea. It, too, is a native of Africa. This is a powerful flier, its robust body packed with muscles to operate those fiery wings.

Be sure to check out images of some additional species in Part 2 of this article, over at ”Sense of Misplaced”. Thanks, hope to see you pass through the Tucson Botanical Gardens one of these days.

1 comment:

  1. When I visited the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History earlier this year, I asked how they prevented the butterflies from reproducing. They told me that they ensured that the garden contained no host plants. Are you doing the same? Would love to come see it but Tucson is a long way from home! :)

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