Friday, August 28, 2009

They're Here!

It’s that time of the year again where The Orchid Conservatory and the Garden becomes home to some very special insects, butterflies! Some of the species we have this year include monarchs, painted ladies, swallowtails and mourning cloaks. The most fascinating part is some of the butterflies we receive come to us in the form of a chrysalis.

The beautiful butterfly you normally see goes through a long process before it becomes what you see. Everyone knows the short version of metamorphosis: caterpillar-larvae-butterfly. In our regular gardens, you may come across caterpillars. The Garden has some naturally so we don’t order any of those. For our Something’s A-Flutter exhibit, we receive butterflies both in the pupae stage (a chrysalis), and adulthood (butterfly).

Our first order of chrysalides came in on Tuesday. Enthusiastic volunteers and staff were armed with cotton balls and pins ready to prepare these little gems for display. We receive the chrysalides from butterfly farms via UPS or FedEx. When we get the package, the chrysalides are packed in foam cases, with individual slots. We’re expecting to receive several hundred chrysalides a week! After gently removing the chrysalides, we create artificial silk by taking a tiny amount of glue and gathering a small piece of cotton ball so it sticks to the chrysalis. Usually in nature, this silk would allow the chrysalis to hang from a twig, but we just take pins and hang the chrysalis up by the cotton.

Chrysalides are different depending on the species of the butterfly. The most impressive chrysalis is the monarch. With its seafoam green case and sparkling gold accents, the monarch chrysalis looks like the focal point of a fine piece of jewelry. Other chrysalides look more natural like a leaf such as the painted ladies. The reason why the monarch chrysalis is so pretty is because the case is a warning signs for predators to stay away. The monarch doesn’t have a very a nice taste. However, the painted ladies taste very good to predators so they require more camouflage to blend in with the natural environment. All of our chrysalides are safe from predators because we display them in a case for you to see part of the butterfly life cycle.

Then we just wait. The chrysalis will turn black and in some cases then clear. The monarch will turn clear and you can see the bright orange colors. When the butterfly hatches, it releases its extra blood it no longer needs (miconium) so don’t be surprised if you see red on the bottom of the display case. Then the emerging butterfly grabs onto the chrysalis while it pumps blood from its abdomen into its wings. The wings are smaller and look like folded blankets when first hatching. After pumping its wings, the butterfly is ready to feed and fly around. The hatching process is different depending on the species. We had some butterflies hatching on Wednesday, only a day later! Painted ladies are quick to hatch, while the swallowtails take a little longer. If you’re lucky, you can see the process yourself in our Conservatory. Be sure to check out both our friends under metamorphosis and our already fluttering friends!

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