We had a tough combination at Dow Gardens’ Butterflies in Bloom on Tuesday: lots of small children and lots of butterflies that wanted to hang out on the floor. Besides the obvious traffic hazard, the floor was a little chilly so I moved any butterflies that seemed inclined to linger there.
One advantage of having lots of small children visit is that they are quite concerned about the welfare of the butterflies. Several of them called me over to look at an emerald swalllowtail that was motionless on a leaf. It was battered but not quite dead, so I gently scooped it up and promised to put it in a protected area (which I did), and reminded them that the butterflies don’t live a long time, so this one might just have been 85 in butterfly years.
Just after this, a boy about first grade came up, softly took me by the hand and led me to the object of his concern, a black crumpled object in a puddle below a misting fan.
“That’s a dead leaf. It’s OK,” I told him.
“I thought it was a butterfly.”
“No, it’s a leaf, but thank you. That was important for you to tell me. Good job.”
We also had a few butterflies that hadn’t developed properly, but were strong enough to fly around and find food. One orange Julia in particular was a bit wrinkled and a little slower than it should have been, so when I found one child preparing to hand it off to another, I pointed out how its wings were not quite as flat as they should have been and asked them to be extra careful.
The giant owl below was a worse off example, and it kept falling to the floor. I ended up moving it to our orchid room, where at least if it fell again it would land on dirt, not concrete.
Identifying butterflies as opposed to other creatures is especially interesting because they can offer two very different views, depending on whether you see the top or underside of their wings. One of the most striking examples we have is the blue morpho, which is brown with an outer row of spots on the underside, but a brilliant blue on the top.
(The most thorough ID site I have seen is at Discover Life, www.discoverlife.org/mp/20q.)
In the two photos below, you can see the underside, then the top side of the same zebra mosaic butterfly’s wings.
We get visitors who are quite serious about photography, with equipment to match. I often ask them if there is any particular variety they are seeking, and usually they’re just looking for whatever is new.
One gentleman, though, was focused on finding a clearwing. I had seen one in the emergence case and when I was letting out numerous other small butterflies, I called him over and pointed it out on the underside of a shelf.
“Do you want to shoot it here before I let it out, so you can be sure you have it?” He shook his head and I realized he needed it in a natural environment, so I released it and we watched together to see where it landed.
(Just after that a 9ish boy on the opposite side of the case tapped the glass and asked me if I would get out the red and black swallowtail that was shivering there. “Sorry, that one’s not ready.” Case relocked.)
The clearwing conveniently landed on a plant just below shoulder height, and soon there were several photographers gathered, politely taking their turns at the angles they wanted. After a few minutes, the gentleman showed me one of the many photos he had taken of the clearwing and explained that he and another gentleman he had met about 20 years ago had started shooting butterflies at the annual exhibit at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, but then had started traveling to Midland as well.
“Mine’s better,” he said of his photo.
“Oh, so you compete to see who can get the best shot of each variety,” I said, smiling and nodding.
He wouldn’t confirm it aloud, but his sly smile spoke for him.
A sunny day meant lots of emergence for Butterflies in Bloom this week. When the temperature hit 85 in the Conservatory, the vents opened, so keeping the floors wet was a challenge this week. I still managed to squeeze in a few photos, and stayed after my shift to try for a few more.
A sunny day in the Dow Gardens Conservatory meant lots of butterflies emerging this week. Visitors still were frustrated by the blue morphos, which seem to know when a camera isn’t ready to capture the striking blue topsides of their wings, and instead present the interestingly patterned but quite brown undersides.
I felt their pain. Among the varieties I saw but didn’t get were a queen (my own fault, I put one in the nursery tree but forgot to shoot it), Mexican bluewing, tailed jay and the tiny but striking Atala hairstreak.
Of course, the climate indoors and that outdoors were quite different.
The waning days of winter showed most of the snow pack gone, but the “pond ice is unstable” sign remains up to warn visitors.
Back indoors, one of the frogs came out to sun itself, which was fun to point out to the kids. Usually the frogs stay in the pond and are much harder to spot, although “Can you find the frogs?” is a great question to ask kids who can’t seem to settle down.
Among the largest babies of Butterflies in Bloom are the giant owls, below. The exhibit continues through April 19.