Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Lovely Lepidoptera

Yesterday, with a burning need to stop listening to the news, I headed down to the American Museum of Natural History to visit the Butterfly Conservatory, which will be closing this coming Monday. The exhibit has a few display panels describing the evolution and biology of butterflies- of the almost 250,000 Lepidopteran species, 7% are considered butterflies, the other 93% are moths. The Lepidoptera have colorful scales on their wings and staw-like proboscises (those which have mouthparts in their adult forms- some, like the giant Atlas moths, imperial moths, and luna moths lack mouthparts, and do not feed- existing only to mate, and to enthrall primates).

The closest relatives to the Lepidoptera are the Trichoptera, the caddisflies, which are characterized by aquatic larvae which build protective 'cases', typically bound together with silk. The Lepidoptera, being mainly nectar-feeders, co-evolved with the flowering plants- the exhibit had an image of a fossil Prodryas persophone dating back to the Eocene epoch.

The life cycles of butterflies should be well known to any observers of nature- the transitions from egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa (encased in a chrysalis or coccoon) to adult (imago) are well-documented, as any wag will tell you.

Of course, the centerpiece of the exhibit is a chamber kept at a humid 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.67 Celsius) and chock full of Lepidopterans, with some particularly gorgeous Morpho butterflies seeming to dominate.

The real show stealers, as Thunder would be able to tell you, were the Atlas moths which, while somewhat sombre in hue, have a wingspan wider than that of a typical sparrow:

It was fun to see how different people react to the insects- one little girl was displaying some trepidation, while another loquacious girl not only reveled in the butterflies, but talked about them with any adult within earshot. As for myself, I love the things- I had one land on my hand, and was torn between reaching for my camera and not moving in order to prolong the contact. I also had the feeling of tiny legs crawling across the back of my neck, but all was good in the world because it was a butterfly and not some bitey or stingy thing.

After about a half-hour in the butterfly chamber, I realized that I was sweaty and needed a nice, cold drink. I exited out the 'airlock' style double doors, after a cursory inspection for stowaways, and proceeded to the less colorful, but no less magical, precincts of the museum.


Li'l Innocent said...

Lovely! Probably your six-legged companions were attracted to the nice salt on your skin.

I had a related experience at a county fair once, though on a somewhat different scale. Hot humid day, I was talking to some family member or other, when a strong, moist, warm, very rough surface swept across the back of my bare arm. It was a cow, right behind me, a Jersey IIRC; can't remember if she was being walked along by a 4H kid or some such, or if she'd leaned over the fence of her enclosure. The power of her tongue amazed me, also its 50 grit sandpaper roughness. Very nice encounter.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

That's a great story, talk about a cowlick! Yeah, I have heard of butterflies being attracted to sweaty skin, and the sweat bees are famous for just that.

Thanks for commenting.

Smut Clyde said...

Not to be confused with tear-drinking moths (which are a thing).

Are you sure there were no slake-moths there?

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

No slake-moths, no need for city-wide panic. No moon moths either, so I didn't need to play the hymerkin or gomapard.

OBS said...

I once ran into one of these fine fellows:

when they randomly showed up amongst our ubiquitous rhododendrons. Pretty damn neat creatures.