The Many Building Blocks of Butterflies and Moths

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The Many Building Blocks of Butterflies and Moths

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru

Powell Gardens Nature Connects Lego(R) sculptures are sure an inspiration to getting folks into our gardens.  What does it take to build a butterfly or moth?  Named Lepidoptera in Latin that means “scaled wing” and defines this group of interrelated insects (butterflies have moths on either side of their family tree).  The beautiful colors and patterns we see on a butterfly or moth’s wings are composed of various colored or textured individual scales. Linda K Williams our Volunteer, Perennial Partner and Missouri Master Naturalist put together a photography display for our Festival of Butterflies called “Inspiration Station” to give you a look at some of these patterns in close detail.

Linda’s photos: Monarch, Cecropia, Pipevine Swallowtail, Cloudless Sulphur….

Variegated Fritillary, Luna, Black Swallowtail; overview above, detail below…

This closeup of the Polyphemus moth’s eye spot clearly shows individual scales that make up its color and pattern.

I thought our “Community Mosaic” project to create a butterfly out of Lego building blocks was a great idea for visitors to our Festival of Butterflies to think about how the scales on the wings of butterflies create their wing’s beautiful patterns and colors.  We put together this butterfly using 5 inch by 5 inch Lego(R) base plates that are attached to the wall with Velcro.  Visitors could pick a plate off the mosaic and create their own colors and pattern using Lego blocks, then put it back on the mosaic.

Here’s some participants in action!

Wow!  What a new butterfly was created by the imagination of many.  And see below for some individual square designs:

It’s a face!

It’s a Luna moth!

Our Owl Butterflies in the Conservatory are the epitome of the marvel of scales pigmented to create an intricate pattern.

The Atlas Moth too has incredible patterns of scales in some wild colors including violet if you look close!  The silver, somewhat triangular patches on each wing are actually devoid of scales and serve as windows that are as transparent as cellophane.

There is more than color in some butterflies scales.  The scales of the Blue Morpho are NOT blue!  How could that be?  It is actually the structure of their scale’s surface that refracts light and that’s why they seem to shine or glow like they are plugged in.  We have learned a lot from this marvelous structure in nano-technology to improve our own electronic gadgets and make them more bright, energy-efficient, and even store more data.

The tiny Atala butterfly has blue spots that seem to glow just like a Morpho but they are phosphorescent!  Yes, they glow in the dark.  Atala is a South Florida specialty butterfly and the smallest species in our display.  They are worth the extra effort to locate in the Conservatory’s butterfly display and more than 50 chrysalises have yet to emerge for this weekend.

Literally,  for the real, alive creature you must have a garden or habitat with their host plant (that their caterpillar needs for food: a Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar above feeding on spicebush leaves) and in most cases a source of food which is most commonly nectar from flowers but can also be anything rich in sugars, salts and minerals like overripe fruit and even scat (a nice word for poop!).  Witness all stages of a butterfly and moth’s life cycle on this last weekend of our Festival of Butterflies.  Learn what plants it takes to create a garden to raise them as well.  Your life will be enriched with their almost magical metamorphosis and what is a garden without them?