A Half Male, Half Female Butterfly At 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.
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.
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.
May is the month to look for warblers, vireos, thrushes, sparrows, and some shorebirds, as they migrate through the Chicago area. Most birders might agree that the highlight this time of year is warblers. It is for me—they are tiny jewels with wings. I feel totally blessed if I can see a few during migration.
To feed, or not to feed, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of empty bird feeders,
Or to take arms against a sea of winter cold
And by opposing it, feed them.
Several years ago, while walking the nature trail in McDonald Woods, I stopped, having heard a high-pitched squeaking emanating from the sedges and grasses along side the trail. (This was when my hearing was still acute enough to detect such high-frequency sounds.) It took me a while, but based on the emphatic commotion, I finally realized I was hearing either a romantic interlude or territorial dispute between two of the smallest carnivorous mammals in our woodland: shrews.
Butterflies & Blooms at the Chicago Botanic Garden has hosted some remarkable butterfly species. One definite crowd-pleaser: the orange dead leaf (Kallima inachus). If we didn’t point out this character to guests, no one would ever suspect that they were looking at a butterfly.
In the middle of the night, an 8-inch bundle of feathers and hollow bones projects a haunting, mysterious sound. It sounds like the rising and falling whinny of a horse, followed by a piercing tremolo. Though it sounds far away, the bird—an eastern screech-owl—could likely be right above your head (that is, if you are out in the middle of the woods at night).
Chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Most people recognize that familiar call of the black-capped chickadee. It’s often heard in late summer and fall as chickadees gather in family groups and small feeding flocks to prepare for the winter. The chickadee’s song—translated as “Hey, sweetie,” (though you can’t often hear the third syllable)—is reserved for late winter, spring, and summer, when the bird is courting and nesting. Nothing brightens a mid-February day more than when a chickadee sings because to those who hear it, the song signals spring’s arrival.