Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

Butterfly Wonderland, Part 3

I have no explanation for the names of butterflies — here we see a Paper Kite, native to Southeast Asia. Where it acquired its name, I have no idea.

And here we are in the Butterfly Nursery with a whole flock of Paper Kits that have just emerged from their chrysalis. If you think back to your elementary school days, you'll recall the process of metamorphosis.

Here is a very interesting and detailed description of the process by Dr. Lincoln Brower, Research Professor of Biology, Sweet Briar College.

"What is happening inside the chrysalid actually begins inside the caterpillar when it's full grown. There are hormonal changes taking place inside the 5th instar caterpillar. It loses all interest in feeding, starts wandering around and then spins a little silk pad. The silk pad is spun on the underside of a leaf, or the underside of a plant, and then the caterpillar turns around and grabs that silk pad with its hind legs which have little hooks on them. Once those hooks are in that little silk pad the caterpillar drops down and it's beginning to change its form now. In fact, that's exactly what the word 'metamorphosis' means: 'changing' its 'form.'

What is happening is a biological miracle going on inside that caterpillar. Enzymes are being released that digest all the caterpillar tissue, so that the caterpillar is being converted into a rich culture medium.

Inside the caterpillar are several sets of little cells that are in different parts of the body and they're called 'imaginal disks.' These are really like little groups of embryonic cells. And as soon as the metamorphosis gets going and as that chrysalid forms the skin is shed off the larva, and now the larva has turned into a chrysalid. These little cells start growing like crazy. And one imaginal disk will become a wing (so there are at least 4 imaginal disks because there are 4 wings in the butterfly). There are imaginal disks that form the legs, the antennae and all the organs of the adult butterfly.

And so inside that chrysalis, during the first 3-4 days is literally a bag of rich fluid media that these cells are growing on. And so the transformation of metamorphosis goes. Nothing likes this happens in vertebrates — ever. It's a phenomenon of insects and it truly is a miraculous biological process of transformation.

These little groups of cells that start developing very early in the caterpillar's life but then they stall, and so they're just in there waiting, and they don't start growing until the very end of the 5th instar (the last caterpillar stage). Then they start growing really rapidly and differentiating into the different tissues, so that literally the entire internal contents of the caterpillar — the muscles, the entire digestive system, even the heart, even the nervous system — is totally rebuilt. It's like you took your car, you took a Ford into the shop and left it there for a week and it came out as a Cadillac.

During the development of the adult, the chrysalsid loses nearly half of its weight. If you were to weigh a chrysalid 3 days after it formed, and then weigh the adult about 24 hours after it emerges, it would have lost nearly half its weight. This shows that the process of metamorphosis consumes a tremendous amount of energy. (Some of the weight would be water, of course.) During whole time it's a chrysalis it can't excrete or defecate, so all of the waste products accumulate. You may have noticed a reddish-colored liquid under the adult after it emerges. This is the nitrogenous waste that has accumulated the whole time during metamorphosis."

Next up is a Spotted Tiger Glassywing which is found in Central and South America.

Enjoying a snack at another feeding station is a Mexican Sister from (as you would expect) Mexico. Ironically, to me this image looks like a composite — cutting out the butterfly from another background and superimposing it on the feeding station. Honestly, the image is real — no Photoshop tricks.

Found in Costa Rica and Panama, the Rosina is found along the edges of forests.

These are Sara Longwing butterflies found from Mexico to the Amazon Basin and Southern Brazil. Note how different the topside and underside of the wings appear to be. When I first photographed this pair, I assumed they were two separate species or subspecies. Nope, both are Sara Longwings. If you are skeptical, compare the shapes of the white portions of the wings — very similar.

Swallowtail butterflies make up some 550 species. In fact, there are so many that I finally gave up on trying to find the exact variety for many of them pictured here — and decided to just enjoy them without the precise identification.

Although most are tropical, they are found on every continent except Antarctica. You will note on this example, the extension on the base of the wing which is the basis for the common name of Swallowtails.

Another Swallowtail although the tail extensions are not a long as some other species. Love the iridescent blue on the wings.

Its coloration resembles a Giant Swallowtail but its diminutive size suggests it is a different species. Perhaps it is a Pygmy Giant Swallowtail (he says, tongue planted firmly in cheek). This individual looks like he has seen better days.

Another unidentified Swallowtail, I think.

This Swallowtail is a Great Mormon and native to Southeast Asia.

Last for this week is the Rose Swallowtail also from Southeast Asia. I love the bright red coloration (again no Photoshop tricks here). The red is really that vivid.

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com