I couldn’t resist starting this week’s post with this campy 1954 horror movie. I could say that viewing this when I was a child traumatized me into my life-long fear of insects (flying, mostly) but my readers know the true genesis, which for those of you who don’t know, can be found by clicking here. You can also see a closeup photo of a humongous bee as from time to time I try to go outside my comfort zone and face my fear. Here is another example, this time a video taken at Little Neck Bay of a slow hovering bee, taken with my breath held, praying the buzzer couldn’t smell my fear:
Despite this fear of insects which is called entophobia, or fear of bees, known as apiphobia,“> I am not afraid of butterflies and moths. Their fragile wings, often brilliantly patterned bodies and wispy antenna do not make my heart rate race. So when I learned that this season’s exhibit of the Butterfly Conservatory at the Museum of Natural History was going to end its run soon, my cousin and I decided to check it out.
The Butterfly Conservatory features up to 500 live, free-flying tropical butterflies from South, Central, and North America, Africa, and Asia which are housed in a vivarium (a place where live animals are kept under conditions that approximate their natural habitat with live flowering plants, etc).
Before entering the vivarium we first encountered a hallway filled with charts and these:
I understand that these showcases were put together to help people learn about the multitude of butterflies and moths, but I found having these non-living samples pinned up so close to their living relatives a bit macabre.
Following this corridor was an enclosed space or kind of air lock to prevent the living butterflies from escaping into the museum. After all was clear we entered the vivarium and were immediately aware of a high level humidity and warmth provided by heat lamps. These are not my favorite environmental conditions, but in the spirit of scientific exploration, I endured as I was transfixed by the fluttering of wings and brilliant colors everywhere.
Now I had to be really patient to capture these beauties on camera. Ironically when it comes to taking photos I have an enormous ability to be patient, which is in direct opposition to the rest of my life where I can barely tolerate waiting (particularly on a line of any sort).
My first reward came when a black and white admiral butterfly flew in for a landing in front of me:
I can’t catalog all that I saw for although I did start the research even my OCD threw in the towel when faced with reams of butterfly identification catalogues. Instead I shall sort by color and include those names I do know.
This intricately designed one is called a ricepaper or paperkite butterfly:
This butterfly could give landing signals with his insignia:
This is a swallowtail – there are many swallowtails – the name refers to the undulating shape of the back of their wings – with tons of different markings:
Honing in for a drink of sugar-water:
Moving into the oranges and yellows:
I think this is called an owl spotted butterfly for obvious reasons:
I couldn’t tell whether these two were flirting or getting ready to fight:
Some of these butterflies were pretty big, but none triggered my entophobia until I literally almost ran into this fellow. I think he is called a polydames swallowtail, but as I got closer and closer and saw how thick his body was etc etc, I once again felt an impending panic attack. Nevertheless, the love of photography won out – that and the fact that these creatures do NOT bite or sting. Take a look:
I was actually fascinated by the way their proboscis is all curled up until it is ready to drink and then it extends into the flower or in this case a dish of sugar-water. Here is a closer look at a coiled proboscis of another butterfly:
Success, I backed away as soon as my shots were completed thinking I had another small victory against my entophobia.
Then, towards the back of the vivarium I saw this:
This is not a picture or a model. It is a living breathing Atlas moth. This is the LARGEST species of moth in the world with wingspans about 12 inches across. Despite the huge size, they don’t eat anything after they hatch from their cocoons as they don’t have fully formed mouths. As such they live off the stored energy they acquired as catepillars and only have a two to three-week live span.
Don’t really care that it has no mouth – and I don’t really care that it doesn’t fly much since it needs to store as much energy as possible for mating. I also was not mollified by the fact that this Atlas moth was kept in its own enclosure. I just kept staring at its face:
No victory lap this time.