This weekend is probably the peak of the annual Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, easily the largest, most economically important tourist event of the year in southern Arizona. There are so many rocks, minerals, fossils, meteorites, sculptures, and other merchandise here that I’m surprised it doesn’t tip the Earth’s axis. The scale of the exhibition defies easy comparisons and quantification. It is difficult to find any other display that rivals the gem show for color and spectacle, but perhaps the Tucson Botanical Gardens has it in the form of its annual “Butterfly Magic” exhibit of live Lepidoptera.
There are stones and tourists here at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show from all over the globe, but there are also live butterflies and moths from all over the world at the TBG. Rocks may glitter and gleam, but they don’t fly, or land delicately on you like the insects in the live butterfly exhibit.
Among the wonders of the butterfly show are metallic blue Morpho butterflies from the Latin American tropics.
Like a living geode, they usually conceal their beauty while perched with wings closed. The underside of their wings are colored in earthtones with spots and stripes.
Sharing its name with a stone of similar color, the Malachite, Siproeta stelenes, also hails from Mexico and Central America, but can also be seen in extreme southern Florida and south Texas.
Glasswing butterflies in the family Nymphalidae, subfamily Ithomiinae, have wings as transparent as the windows of any building. No silica here, just an absence of the scales that normally give butterflies their vibrant color patterns. Only the veins and edges are pigmented here, creating artistic panes.
Not to be outdone by their day-active counterparts, some moths have a subtle beauty all their own. By any standards the African moon moth, Argema mimosae, is a glamorous animal, with tails that stream like a comet or shooting star.
No meteorite fall at the end, but an equally ephemeral life. With no mouthparts to feed, these giant moths live for no more than a few days, just long enough to reproduce.
My friends in the meteorite-hunting world have given me a new appreciation for both extra-terrestrial and earth-borne geology, but it is still difficult not to choose the living over the inanimate. Whatever your own predilection, be sure to share that passion with others. It is a great way to make new friends and expand each other’s horizons.