Saturday, April 26, 2014

Thank you Maupin!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk about butterflies to several groups of kids in the Maupin, OR school district.  It was a long day and my voice was a bit hoarse by the end of it, but it was a wonderful time and I was very impressed with all the kids.  I don't think I've encountered so many observant and interested kids before, a few really stood out to me with the things they picked up on, and I was particularly impressed with the high school group.  It was a great experience and I hope to have more opportunities like this in the future!
Many of you took my business card with my email address, so I hope to hear from you if you have any questions - I tried to answer as many as I could, but simply didn't have time to listen to everyone, so many wonderfully curious kids!  You also may comment on any of my blog posts here - I moderate the comments to eliminate spam, so keep in mind that when you submit a comment it won't show up right away, usually I'll see and "okay" it within a couple hours.
Several of you had questions about how I preserve the specimens, and some asked why I kill some of the ones I raise, instead of letting them go.  There are links on the left side of this page (Rearing Lepidoptera, Collecting Lepidoptera, Mounting Specimens, and others) where I have written answers to these questions, and there is information there about how to spread butterfly wings to preserve them for a collection, along with general guidelines about ethical collecting practices.  There is also a list of books and other resources I recommend.  In particular, The Butterflies of Cascadia by Robert M. Pyle is the best (at least my favorite) guide book to Washington and Oregon butterflies, although some of the scientific names have changed in recent years, and some new species have been described.  Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies by David James and David Nunnallee is a newer book with the updated names, and is the first book to ever show all the egg-larva-pupa stages of our local butterflies.  It does not have as many photos of adult butterflies, so you will need to use other books and websites to help with the identification of some species, but there is a lot of information in that book about what plants each butterfly uses and what the caterpillars look like.
Also, following up on the two butterflies the kids found (Kindergarten class brought a dead Anise Swallowtail and the High School class brought a dead Indra Swallowtail), here are two blog posts I wrote a while back that talk about these two swallowtails and the similar Oregon Swallowtail:
Indra & Anise swallowtails
Oregon Swallowtail

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Will touching a butterfly's (or moth's) wings kill it?

I hear this question frequently, and it came up again recently, but I don't think I've discussed it yet on my blog.  People are often taught that if they touch a butterfly or moth and rub any scales off its wings that it will die.  However, that is not the case.  
Butterflies and moths belong to the order Lepidoptera, a word derived from the Greek words lepis (scale) and ptera (wing).  Their wings are covered in tiny scales, overlapping like shingles on a roof.  These scales give the butterflies and moths their wing patterns, and make them more aerodynamic, a little like feathers on a bird's wing.  However, unlike birds, when butterflies and moths lose scales on their wings, they can still fly.  Depending on the amount of scales lost, it may make them less aerodynamic and affect their flight pattern slightly, but it will not kill them.  Some species of butterflies and moths actually have very few scales, resulting in partially or entirely clear wings. It's really not much different than most other insects with wings, such as dragonflies and wasps.
Butterflies and moths naturally lose scales throughout their lives.  They often rub some off in the course of emerging from their pupa, in addition to losing scales while flying, and from escaping from birds or other animals (nothing like a mouthful of powdery scales to make you change your mind about a meal!).
Although butterflies and moths are certainly delicate, they are much hardier than many people give them credit for.  So the next time you encounter a butterfly or moth, don't be afraid to coax it onto your hand if it wishes to cooperate! Handle it gently, don't try to pet it, and enjoy its beauty!
One of many species of clear-winged butterflies from South America
Close-up of the clear patch and surrounding scales on the wing of Rothschildia lebeau forbesi (see previous blog post)