Thanksgiving is here again, and we at the Chicago Botanic Garden are thankful for all the pollinators who make our food possible, every day, around the world. Bats, bees, butterflies, birds, and more pollinate plants that create one-third of the food we eat. As you enjoy a meal with friends and family, take a moment to say thanks for the little things that make such a big difference—pollinators!
This season, the Chicago Botanic Garden honors pollinators through Bees & Beyond, a program that reveals the vital role pollinators play in our everyday lives and in a healthy, diverse planet. The “beyond” in the title refers to bats, birds, butterflies, moths, wind, and generally any force or creature that keeps our world producing.
When I was growing up, there were certain animals I was saddened to think I would never see in my lifetime. There were those species that had become extinct, of course, like passenger pigeons, Carolina parakeets, ivory-billed woodpeckers, and Labrador ducks. I had read the life histories of these species and marveled at descriptions of their colors, sounds, and abundance. It made me feel depressed that these amazing creatures were gone forever.
Read on. Want to see a butterfly dry its wings, hang upside down, or even fight? Watch the weather first. As summer gets underway, it’s fun to see how weather changes affect the activity at Butterfly & Blooms. The seasonal exhibition is a photographer’s dream, with hundreds of live butterfly species native to countries around the world. Here are some tips on butterfly behavior, depending on the weather:
Summer won't be over for a while in my book—not as long as there are dragonflies around. I think I've seen more dragonflies this year at the Chicago Botanic Garden than I have in the past ten years combined. The quick, strong fliers seem to be everywhere.
A Half Male, Half Female ButterflyAt Butterflies & Blooms on Monday, I saw something I had never seen before in my five years as a butterfly wrangler at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I noticed that a leopard lacewing's right wings were bright orange, just like any other male of the species, but the left wings were beige—only females have beige wings. This lacewing was half male and half female, or a gynandromorphic butterfly.
One day at Butterflies & Blooms, I noticed a crepuscular, cosmopolitan imago puddling in order to prepare for an upcoming lek. What did I just say?The vocabulary surrounding Lepidoptera can be very specific—and not so easy to understand. Let’s break it down, and go over some of my favorite butterfly and moth terminology (and learn some of the amazing things these insects do). Then, see if you can decode the sentence above.
If you happened to walk around the Heritage Garden in late June, the unusual blue color of the Moroccan mountain eryngo (pronounced eh-RING-go), Eryngium variifolium, probably caught your eye, and its peculiar perfume tickled your nose. It was also swarming with flying insects.
At the Chicago Botanic Garden's Butterflies & Blooms exhibition, I receive a wide variety of questions about butterfly physiology. My favorite questions are ones that don’t have a substantiated answer, only theories posited by lepidopterists (or those who study butterflies and moths). I always enjoy these questions, since they are on the cutting edge of scientific understanding.One such question is: “What are those specs of gold on the monarch butterflies?” The short answer is “Nobody knows!” But there are a few interesting theories.