Thursday, December 3, 2015

Butterfly Rainforest

We are now parked about 40 miles north of Gainesville.  The park we are staying at is quite the lovely place with lots of open green space complete with tropical birds and farmyard animals.  The birds sometimes set up quite a din with their squawking and the donkeys get to braying at night, but I will take that noise any day to the roar of motorcycles and trucks!
Yesterday we drove into Gainesville to the Museum of Natural History, which is on the University of Florida campus.  Part of the museum is the Butterfly Rainforest and the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.  Here there is everything you may want to know about butterflies and moth biology.

 As we entered the section of the museum devoted to the study of butterflies we immediately saw the Wall of Wings, a section of which is pictured above.  Mounted for display are butterflies from 5 major geographic regions of the world.  The wall is nearly 3 stories high and has 13,000 butterfly and moth specimens and photographs.  Butterflies and moths are the second largest animal group in the world, there are more than 165,000 described and 100,000 yet more to be described.  Along the Wall of Wings are laboratories where we were able to watch scientists at work.  The lab pictured below is the conservation lab, where scientists are searching for reasons why certain butterflies become endangered.

There is also a rearing lab, where butterflies in the chrysalis stage arrive from around the world and held until they emerge as butterflies.   Instead of cutting down forests to grow crops, butterfly farms make money by breeding butterflies in their natural environment.  It saves natural habitats as well as boasting small farming economies. There is also a lab in this area for DNA testing of moths and butterflies.

 One thing I learned about butterflies in the exhibit is that the designs on their wings, as well as their coloring  serve a variety of purposes, from attracting mates to warning off predators.  In the picture above about 6 butterflies are feeding on a banana.  Notice the one butterfly with large spots on his wings.  That eye spot intimidates predators as small birds.  To them the eye spot looks like the eye of a larger bird who may harm them.
The butterfly rainforest has an average of 60 to 80 butterfly species.  They are the ones that come in chrysalis stage from butterfly farms.  One method the center uses to prevent them from reproducing and getting out into the wild is by not providing the right plant on which to lay their eggs.  Among the wildflowers in the rainforest there is, however, many host plants for Florida's native butterflies.  It is quite the beautiful place with  the many colorful butterflies flitting around the plants.
I am posting this from St.Petersburg, where we are now parked for the winter.  The postings from here may not be as frequent, at least for awhile.  Next week we will make a trip to Illinois to attend the graduation of Spencer from law school, as well as to help him, Melissa and Nathan move down to Florida.

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