Saturday, January 30, 2010

Butterflies Revisited

Before leaving the Tucson Botanical Gardens, we wanted to take a second photographic visit to the Butterflies in the Tropical Greenhouse.

Being able to get close to these beauties was quite an opportunity. In addition, given that the life span of most adult butterflies is only 1-3 weeks, this is a fleeting opportunity.

As we walked around the relatively small room, we not only had to look upward for the butterflies but also downward to the dirt walkways. Since some feed off the materials in the dirt, they were dependent on our avoiding them.

When one of the staff noticed a butterfly on the ground, he picked it up and placed it on a leaf. I noticed that he used his first two fingers to pick it up rather than using his thumb and index finger.

I later learned that the tiny scales attached to the butterflies' wings give the wings their color. However, picking up the insect runs the risk of rubbing off some of these scales and dulling the color a bit.

(I believe this is a Malay Lacewing in the photo above.)

Since I had wanted to be able to identify at least some of the butterflies shown here, I started checking web sites on butterflies.

Very early in this process I learned that there are about 17,500 species of butterflies. Or 24,000. Or 28,000. (Since there were some moths in the exhibit, identifying them would even be more difficult--about 140,000 species of them were counted all over the world.)

Needless to say, I settled for the opportunity to photograph these beautiful subjects without knowing their names.

But speaking of moths, I learned that some moths never eat anything as adults, because they don't have mouths. They must live on the energy they stored as caterpillars.

Also of interest to us, was the fact that many butterflies can taste with their feet. This enables them to find out whether or not the leaf they're on is a good place to lay eggs, meaning is it the right food source for their young caterpillars.

In spite of the fascination with these little guys, we had to leave when the heat and humidity became really uncomfortable.

But despite our discomfort, without a temperature over 85 degrees most of the tropical butterflies would be unable to fly.

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