I had known immediately what the title of this post was going to be – but frankly had no clue as to where the phrase came from – so of course I did some research and was rather surprised to learn its genesis. Some of you might think that it comes from the a title of a 1972 comedic movie starring newcomer Goldie Hawn.
Ah, but the answer is a little more highbrow. The title is actually a passage from Charles Dickens’ 1852 serialized novel Bleak House, a satirization of the English judicial system.
“I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies.”
Don’t be concerned, this post is definitely not bleak – rather it is a celebration of these colorful but ephemeral winged beauties. For the third time I visited the American Museum of Natural History’s Butterfly Conservatory, this time with my friend Lenore. Each year the AMNH selects butterflies and moths from all over the world and in the conservatory they are free to fly in a very humid and lush habitat. There are air locks for humans where we wait before and after entering the conservatory until it is assured that no butterfly has escaped the enclosure. This is not just for show – these flying creatures often alight on you – and I must have exuded the right pheromones as quite a few made my acquaintance and didn’t want to leave. No worries – a gentle shake and off they flutter away.
Let me introduce you to some of my new friends. This first butterfly is named after a famous Vincent Van Gogh painting – see if you can guess which one:
These butterflies live in Central and South America and they are very difficult to photograph as they prefer the higher portions of tree trunks in their natural habitat. Although I did not have to worry about trees, I had other challenges. The conservatory’s “climate” mimics the butterflies’ natural habitat with high temperature and about 100 % humidity. This obviously causes my camera lens to fog up until it acclimates. My patience is also put under the test, watching the butterflies flit to and fro, waiting for them to alight.
This beautiful butterfly liked my sweater – most specifically my upper arm, and that added another layer of difficulty – a one-handed shot, but after a few fuzzy shots I managed the above as well as a few other photos of his relative who was hiding in the corner:
Its full name? Have you guessed? It is a Starry Night Cracker Butterfly – can you see the resemblance?
The males produce a sound similar to the crackling of frying bacon – thus the “cracker” appellation.
There were other blue hued butterflies floating about but I don’t know their names – there are so many similarly colored butterflies that even my obsessive compulsiveness was silenced.
You’ll see in a moment why I am including this next Butterfly in this post – but even its underside is spectacular. Like the Starry Night Cracker, the Morpho Butterfly took a liking to not only me but also my friend Lenore:
This last one planted himself on the inside of Lenore’s pant leg and it actually took quite a bit if jiggling to get him to disengage. This particular Morpho species lives in the tropical forests of Latin America. Adults spend most of their time on the forest floor and in the lower shrubs and trees with their wings folded and the spotted shades of brown on its folded wings provides great camouflage.
However, this butterfly has another look but again it is quite difficult to view and photograph. Here is a sneak peek:
We were about to leave the conservatory when one Morpho decided to give us a grand finale and opened up to its full glory:
The common name for this butterfly is the Blue Morpho and its iridescent blue wings shimmer as it flies. The Blue Morpho is one of the largest butterflies in the world, with wings spanning up to eight inches.
Lenore got some great shots of the changing hues of the Blue Morpho:
And based on my second new friend – once it gets to know you, the Blue Morpho is bit of a ham – look at this closeup (another one-handed shot – I may have to do this all the time):