Butterfly Diary 2016, Week 3

Four longwing butterflies in a feeding dish
Four longwing butterflies in a feeding dish
It’s butterfly Twister! A fifth one was in the same feeder just before I shot this (of course); three of these are small postman butterflies

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.

A green and brown butterfly hanging upside down
Not on the floor but near, upside down on the storage cabinet beneath the emergence case

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.

Emerald swallowtail
This emerald swalllowtail likely did not live much longer; the varieties we bring in have life spans of only a few weeks

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.”

A butterfly (sorry, ID is tough sometimes)
A clipper near the frog pond … but not too near

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.

Giant owl butterfly

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.

The very striped and patterned underside of a butterfly's wings

The top side of the same butterfly's wings, black except for a white nearly vertical stripe

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.

Four different varieties of butterflies share a feeding dish
Butterflies of different types often feed together, but this is the first time I’ve seen such a variety share a food dish.
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Butterfly Diary 2016, Week 2

A little girl asked why one butterfly didn't have eyes and I said it did, but they were black ... like this one's

Butterfly on a tropical plant

This week I’ll largely post photos. That’s what most people want anyway.

There was a lot of emergence in this, the first full week of Dow Gardens’ Butterflies in Bloom. We also had three mating pairs, which I haven’t seen this early on. For the most part people kept a respectful distance, but one woman plucked a mating pair off a marigold when I was busy elsewhere and put them on her toddler grandson to photograph. SERIOUSLY? Like you’d want to be bothered that way. And no, they were not at all inclined to separate; I don’t know how long they go at it, but some of them remained fond of each other for my entire 2-hour shift.

Mating swallowtails
Mating great yellow Mormon and swallowtail
Mating swallowtails
Same pair, side view
A zebra longwing on one of the marigolds brought into the conservatory for the butterflies
A zebra longwing on one of the marigolds brought into the conservatory for the butterflies
A trio at one of the food dishes
A trio at one of the food dishes
A Mexican bluewing whose coloring is more of a light violet than the usual cobalt blue
A Mexican bluewing whose coloring is more of a light violet than the usual cobalt blue
A starry night cracker, one of my favorite varieties
A starry night cracker, one of my favorite varieties
A different starry night cracker, sharing a banana
A different starry night cracker, sharing a banana
Another of our smaller varieties, a buckeye
Another of our smaller varieties, a buckeye
Somewhat larger, a malachite
Somewhat larger, a malachite
A swallowtail without one of its telltale "tails"
A great yellow Mormon without one of its telltale swallow”tails”
Same variety, different specimen; note the two "tails"
Same variety, different specimen; note the two “tails”
A little girl asked why one butterfly didn't have eyes and I said it did, but they were black ... like this one's
A little girl asked why one butterfly didn’t have eyes and I said it did, but they were black … like this one’s
More flying critters
More flying critters …
Butterfly on foliage
… and another …
A butterfly on a flowering plant
… and another
Mating pipevine swallowtails; note the top one's wing is so battered you can see the yellow of the marigold through it
Mating pipevine swallowtails; note the top one’s wing is so battered you can see the yellow of the marigold through it

Butterfly Diary 2015, Week 5: A photo gallery

My favorite photo of the week, a paper kite hanging from its chrysalis.
A spicebush swallowtail feeds on a zinnia.
A spicebush swallowtail feeds on a zinnia.

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.

This shows the underside of the wing of the butterfly pictured at top, the spicebush swallowtail. This one is hanging in our “nursery” Norfolk pine for some extra attention and drying time.
This shows the underside of the wing of the butterfly pictured at top, the spicebush swallowtail. This one is hanging in our “nursery” Norfolk pine for some extra attention and drying time.

 

A Mexican bluewing still in the chrysalis case. The dark spots on the TENA pad are meconium, or waste fluid, that the butterflies expel as they unfurl and flap their wings to dry while hanging. We put pads under each chrysalis shelf and spray them heavily to boost the humidity in the case.
A Mexican bluewing still in the chrysalis case. The dark spots on the TENA pad are meconium, or waste fluid, that the butterflies expel as they unfurl and flap their wings to dry while hanging. We put pads under each chrysalis shelf and spray them heavily with water to boost the humidity in the case.

 

A chrysalis for one of the owl butterflies, I believe the giant owl. See how it’s transparent at the top? The Dow Gardens entomologist, Elly Maxwell Grosteffon, said this one likely would be emerging within the next day.
A chrysalis for one of the owl butterflies, I believe the giant owl. See how it’s transparent at the top? The Dow Gardens entomologist, Elly Maxwell Grosteffon, said this one likely would be emerging within the next day.

 

I reached out to Elly for help when I couldn’t identify this while editing and she told me it is a lacewing. Many photos show the tops of butterfly wings, so identifying by the undersides is harder. It gets trickier still because so many varieties have duller undersides for camouflage, such as the popular blue morpho, which is brown with a line of large spots on the undersides, but a brilliant blue on the wing tops. The blue morphos also are notoriously uncooperative for cameras.
I reached out to Elly for help when I couldn’t identify this while editing and she told me it is a lacewing. Many photos show the tops of butterfly wings, so identifying by the undersides is harder. It gets trickier still because so many varieties have duller undersides for camouflage, such as the popular blue morpho, which is brown with a line of large spots on the undersides, but a brilliant blue on the wing tops. The blue morphos also are notoriously uncooperative for cameras.

 

A small postman.
A small postman.

 

A giant swallowtail.
A giant swallowtail.

 

A queen, which is the type, not the gender. It is somewhat battered, likely from courting rituals. I find the orange Julias and zebra longwings especially amorous, and sometimes gently shoo them out of the nursery when they try to mate with a new insect, such as the orange sulphur that crashed with its wings furled and had trouble hanging onto the tree at all. Sadly, it did not survive.
A queen, which is the type, not the gender. It is somewhat battered, likely from courting rituals. I find the orange Julias and zebra longwings especially amorous, and sometimes gently shoo them out of the nursery when they try to mate with a new insect, such as the orange sulphur that crashed with its wings furled and had trouble hanging onto the tree at all. Sadly, it did not survive.

 

A pipevine swallowtail.
Above, a pipevine swallowtail. Below, my favorite photo of the week, a paper kite hanging from its chrysalis.

My favorite photo of the week, a paper kite hanging from its chrysalis.

Butterfly Diary 2015, Week 4: Winter gives way to spring

The waterfall near the entrance is much more liquid now.
A newly emerged buckeye. While many have a mostly brown background, some breeders emphasize colorings that are purple or green, like this one.
A newly emerged buckeye. While many have a mostly brown background, some breeders emphasize colorings that are purple or green, like this one.

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 waterfall near the entrance is much more liquid now.
The waterfall near the entrance is much more liquid now.

 

As the stream by the Conservatory thaws, multiple layers of leaves that were frozen into it are revealed.
As the stream by the Conservatory thaws, multiple layers of leaves that were frozen into it are revealed.

The waning days of winter showed most of the snow pack gone, but the “pond ice is unstable” sign remains up to warn visitors.

The frogs LOVE the butterfly exhibit. It is tasty.
The frogs LOVE the butterfly exhibit. It is tasty.

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.

A giant owl on my hand, for scale. This variety has noticeable weight to it, and scritchy feet.
A giant owl on my hand, for scale. This variety has noticeable weight to it, and scritchy feet.

 

Another giant owl.
Another giant owl.