Picture to the left from the Meijer Garden Butterfly Exhibit Webpage
Late winter, especially when out-of- town visitors drop in for a few days, is a perfect time for an afternoon in the Butterfly Exhibit at Meijer Gardens. The two-month exhibition just started and in addition to having hundreds of butterflies hatching daily, the greenhouse is filled with orchids, a stream complete with a waterfall and a pond. Since I didn’t pack a camera (and wasn't wanting to steal massive photos of butterflies, you’ll have to be content with my written observations.
1. Lying prostrate upon the water, a Longwing floats. She’s caught in the eddy of the small pond that draws her toward the falls under the bridge where I watch. The markings look like a Postman (Heliconius melpomene). She struggles occasionally, especially when the current pulls her close to the edge, teasing her with the hope of freedom. But her skinny legs are unable to make headway against the current and soon she’s caught in the swift current from the falls, which pushes her quickly back out into the pond. She bobbles on the waves, as they played out, before once again trying to free herself, frantically waving her thin legs to no avail. Like a capsized sailboat, with the weight of the water upon the sails keeps her crew from righting her, the weight of water on the butterfly’s wings secures her to a watery tomb. A boat crew has the options of furling the sails, but these magnificent black wings with splotches of red and white conspire to keep her a prisoner upon the water. Hers was a fatal sip of water that’s so necessary for life. As she circles back to toward the falls, she struggles less. Why doesn’t one of the large goldfish hasn’t risen to the top and with a single gulp, put her out of misery. But then I read that the markings on a Longwing inform predators of their bitter taste. But how do the fish know, I wonder?
2. On few feet away a Giant Owl (Caligo memnon), feasts, his wings closed like a child clasping hands in prayer. The dark spot in the middle of the wing of this member of the "brush-footed family" resembles an owl’s eye. Squiggly brown lines surround the eye as if his wing is nature’s topo map into a dark hole. Nearby, a Common Rose (Pachliopta arisolocia), a member of the Swallowtail family, flutters in what can only be described as orgiastic excitement as she draws life from the flower. Why the contrast. Why is one so active and the other so passive when they sup?
3. And then there’s the hatching room, under glass. Hundreds of cocoons hang, waiting the hour of their metamorphosing. Does caterpillars ever have second thoughts about zipping up their chryalis? Do any suffer from claustrophobia? Am I crazy to try to get into the mind of a caterpillar?