Saturday, October 16, 2010

Butterfly Time (Part 2)

This post takes up where Part 1, on my sister blog ”Bug Eric” leaves off. The seventh annual “Butterfly Magic” kicked off with the suave and swanky “Butterfly Affaire” fundraiser on Sunday night, October 10. Music, fine food and beverages were the order of the evening, but at least a few folks ventured into the hot and humid greenhouse in their gowns and suits (though most were dressed a little above “business casual”).

The butterflies had mostly settled down to roost for the night, making them difficult to spot. The lights were on in the tropical greenhouse, but insects are not easily fooled by the artificial extension of natural day length. Consequently, the hit of the night was a group of recently-emerged African Moon Moths, Argema mimosa.

These large, showy insects are very cooperative, sitting idly in the places we had put them earlier in the day. The moths live only two or three days, even in the wild. They do not feed, or even have functional mouthparts, living instead off the stored fat reserves they built up in the caterpillar stage. Females wait patiently for males to fly to them, attracting the opposite gender with a pheromone (like a perfume) that the males can follow from a mile or more away.

The males use their feathery antennae like satellite dishes, picking up the fragrant signals of a female and homing in on her. She may not even venture off of her cocoon, at least not in our captive setting where we usually take cocoon and moth out to the greenhouse and pin the cocoon perch to a tree trunk.

Longwing butterflies in the genus Heliconius are at the other end of the longevity spectrum. While most butterflies can last two or three weeks, maybe a month on flower nectar, longwings can go up to six months because they can also eat pollen. There is no end to the variability in color and pattern, even within one species of Heliconius. Some mimic milkweed butterflies that are toxic to some predators. All are neotropical in their distribution (that means they are native to Mexico, Central and South America). Colorful and seemingly fragile, they fly slowly, perching frequently. This Heliconius erato displays a typical pattern for its species.

Come evening, or during overcast days, the longwings seldom take flight, instead hanging from the underside of foliage, or perching on leaves like this Heliconius doris.

As diminutive as the longwings are, the swallowtails are large and powerful. This Magnificent Swallowtail, Papilio garamus, is the only specimen to emerge so far from the multiple chrysalids we have received in shipments. It ranges from central Mexico to Costa Rica.

A real success from the shipments were sulphur butterflies in the genus Catopsilia. They are commonly known as “immigrants,” which of course has been the source of many bad jokes among the staff and volunteers in the exhibit. Ironically, the “Orange Immigrant,” Catopsilia scylla, hails from northern Australia and neighboring islands of Indonesia, not from south of the U.S. border.

Wherever you call home, you might want to plan a trip to meet these wonderful insects while they are here in Tucson. Butterfly Magic runs through April 30, 2011, so reserve those tickets now.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's "Arachtober!"

One of my friends on the photo-sharing website Flickr recently informed me of an annual group posting called “Arachtober.” It is an invitation-only group, but you can inquire to the moderators to become a participant. Each member tries to post one spider image a day during the month of October. How appropriate given the Halloween season.

It is encouraging to see the spiders are not only getting positive publicity, but that they are becoming the focus of an increasing number of amateur and professional nature photographers. They certainly make wonderful subjects. Those that sit in webs are pretty easy to take pictures of, without the risk that the spider will run away.

”Arachtober” began on October 1, 2007 with the posting of a single spider image by one of Flickr’s users. An encouraging comment on the image from another user suggested that Halloween week should be deemed “Spider Week.” The user who initially posted the image responded that he probably had enough images to post one spider a day for the entire month. Thus, “Spider Month” was started.

Meanwhile, a third user started her own “Spider Blitz” Halloween week and in the process learned of the month-long effort of the other two users. This third user suggested “Arachtober” for that project and the name stuck.

In October, 2008, the Arachtober group finished with forty-five members and 599 image posts. The 2009 campaign was even better, with a total of 70 members finishing the month and 1, 088 images posted.

You are still welcome to join this year’s effort, which at present includes 74 participants. According to the founder of Arachtober:

”The group works like a short term 365 group, the goal is to post spiders to Flickr daily during October and have fun. When you shot the spider isn't important. To make it through the month, most of us have to save up over the year. Even if you don't have enough spiders for every day, you can still participate. You can either post them daily till you run out, spread them out every few days, or save them till Halloween week. Spiders are especially popular around then.”

I have sprinkled this blog post with some of the images I have already submitted to Arachtober this year. I encourage you to visit the Arachtober page and browse the collective. Here’s hoping you will participate, too. Arachnophiles unite!

Note: By custom, and to protect privacy, few Flickr users reveal their real names, hence the rather cryptic references here.