Hitchhiking butterfly


Blue morpho at Butterfly Rainforest, Gainesville, FL (Photo by Roger Haines)

This iridescent blue fellow latched onto me at the Butterfly Rainforest in Gainesville, FL, this week and stayed there long enough for bother Roger to whip out his phone and take a picture.

If you’re up that way, this is a very pleasant place to spend an hour or so on a weekday morning. Don’t go on a busy day, and be sure you saunter along slowly and even take advantage of the many benches scattered about. And pay as much attention to the foliage as you do the butterflies because it’s all pretty interesting. In fact there are two picture books available for browsing while you’re there; one for identifying the butterflies and one for figuring out what all the green stuff is.

But back to my hitchhiker. It’s a blue morpho, found in Central America as well as Mexico and South America including Brazil, Costa Rica and Venezuela, and, of course, a certain screened-in structure in Gainesville. It’s one of about 70 species found in the exhibit (including the dead ones pinned down in display cases, the museum has over nine million specimens).

Butterflies don’t breed in the exhibit because of some complicated rules about exotics, so the supply needs to be replenished constantly. The fellow on my shirt will live only about 115 days, for example. There is a lab-based breeding program dependent on imported chrysalises, and about 900 new adults are added weekly to the enclosure.

Fascinating fact: My friend isn’t really the color blue, he just looks that way. I’ll let Wikipedia explain it (and when you can describe it in plain English send me an email):

Many morpho butterflies are colored in metallic, shimmering shades of blues and greens. These colors are not a result of pigmentation, but are an example of iridescence through structural coloration. Specifically, the microscopic scales covering the morpho’s wings reflect incident light repeatedly at successive layers, leading to interference effects that depend on both wavelength and angle of incidence/observance. Thus, the colors appear to vary with viewing angle, but they are actually surprisingly uniform, perhaps due to the tetrahedral (diamond-like) structural arrangement of the scales or diffraction from overlying cell layers. The wide-angle blue reflection property can be explained by exploring the nanostructures in the scales of the morpho butterfly wings. These optically active structures integrate three design principles leading to the wide-angle reflection: alternative lamellae layers, Christmas tree-like shape, and zigzag pattern of the ridges. The reflection spectrum is found to be broad (about 90 nm) for alternating layers and can be controlled by varying the design pattern. The Christmas tree-like pattern helps to reduce the directionality of the reflectance by creating an impedance matching for blue wavelengths. In addition, the zigzag pattern of ridges destroys the unwanted interference for other wavelengths in wide angle. This structure may be likened to a photonic crystal. The lamellate structure of their wing scales has been studied as a model in the development of fabrics, dye-free paints, and anticounterfeit technology used in currency.

Meanwhile, I’m very happy I didn’t try to brush this fellow away, because, as I also read, “When threatened they release a strong smell from a gland that opens between their front legs.”

That would not have looked at all good on that nice T-Shirt I picked up in Big Sur a few months ago.






About Ron Haines

Find me at https://ronhaines.wordpress.com/
This entry was posted in Nature, Offbeat, Road trip. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hitchhiking butterfly

  1. Roger Haines says:

    Neat piece, Ron. In case anyone wants a little more…
    This butterfly exhibit is attached to the( UF) Florida Museum of Natural History, which is also a great place to tour. It includes lots of neat exhibits — from Mastodon skeletons to prehistoric shark jaws/teeth to exhibits about life in pre-colonial Florida.
    The Museum is free. You pay $8 or $10 to tour the butterfly exhibit, and maybe $4 to park your car.
    And if you’re an art lover, the (UF) Harn Art Museum is right next door.
    (And to complete the little tour…) The simply-awesome UF Center for the Performing Arts is also on this plot.


  2. Jean says:

    As usual very interesting and entertaining! Thank you! jb


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