Butterfly Diary 2016, Week 1

photo of longwing butterfly
This small postman decided the outside of the case was a fine to place to chill, thank you.

It’s time for the best 8 weeks of volunteering I will spend all year: tending baby butterflies.

This is the quietest week of Butterflies in Bloom, because the exhibit isn’t open to the public yet. Friday morning it will be; get all the details at www.dowgardens.org/butterflies.

What is there to do with no visitors? The usual: check the chrysalis case for parasites, check further to see who has emerged and if anyone is in trouble, then water the floor. Seriously, because so many of the species we get are jungle and rainforest dwellers, we keep the humidity in the conservatory cranked, so in addition to running the misting fans, we water the floor, which is mostly brick.

photo of humidity gauge reading 99.9 percentThis puppy at left (haha!) displays the humidity inside the chrysalis case, with readings updated every 15 minutes.

I release butterflies when they are flying about quite actively, practically beating the glass. How long this takes is closely tied to size. Smaller butterflies might take a couple of hours to fully extend and dry their wings, while some of our largest varieties can take half a day.

I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story, but if you have questions, by all means ask in the comments. And check back the next seven Wednesdays for more butterfly photos.

photo of several rows of chrysalises of different types
A view of the “ceiling,” that is, the underside of a shelf. When a chrysalis doesn’t have silk sticking out of it to pin through, we glue on a tuft of cotton. They change appearance as the occupants grow. For example, just before emergence, those green chrysalises will darken until they appear nearly purple.

photo of an underdeveloped brown clipper butterfly clinging to a luna moth chrysalis

This guy bummed me out because I don’t think he’s going to make it. This is a brown clipper that got stuck emerging, so the wings were out and starting to dry, but they weren’t completely unfolded because the abdomen was stuck in the chrysalis. I watched him struggle for several minutes, wishing our fabulous entomologist would walk in and save the day, but she didn’t so I unpinned him and gently scraped away the paper-thin trap. Unfortunately, the struggle might have exhausted him, because he didn’t move much after that, although I did see him uncurling and curling his proboscis about an hour and a half later just before I left. (I’m saying “he” but truly I don’t know. Some are easier to tell than others.)

photo of a black and white butterfly



At right, this black and white butterfly resting near the conservatory walls had a silhouette effect.


photo of a swallowtail butterfly resting on a stem near the ground




Some butterflies prefer being close to the ground, like this swallowtail at right. As long as this doesn’t place them near the emergency exit, which carries a wicked breeze beneath it this time of year, near or even on pavement is fine.




photo of three emerged paper kite butterflies clinging to chrysalises
This is a view of recently emerged butterflies taken through plexiglass, hence the reflection. (Sorry, but humidity means keeping the case closed as much as possible.) The three black and white creatures just left of center are paper kites, true to the tag at the end of their row. The one second from left had emerged just a few minutes prior, hence the fatter body. To the right is a leopard lacewing.

photo of a hybrid longwing butterfly


Some of our butterflies are hybrids of two varieties, like this longwing at right. This is near the small pond, home to a pair of quite old frogs who have learned to love this annual exhibit.




photo of a leopard lacewing butterfly on a light pink flower
This might be tough to decipher at first. This leopard lacewing is clinging to the flower, not flying. The redder coloration to the left is the underside of its wing.


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