Saturday, February 16, 2008

Creeped Out by Butterflies?

Well not quite. But last weekend Mme D and I went to Branson MO. While there, we decided to visit the Butterfly Palace. The big feature is a Butterfly flight room with plants and of course free flying butterflies. The building is spectacular but most of the first level is taken up by a gift shop. The shop has a lot of the what I call "nature kitch" that one finds in places such as The Rain Forest Cafe. But if you like cute poison arrow frogs and shirts that change color in UV light then the gift shop is for you. Indeed we did buy a couple of color changing shirts for grandkids.


The butterfly flight room is on the top floor and is indeed full of various tropical butterflies and we spent about two hours taking pictures. I "shot" most of the species present but found some very difficult to get good shots of, unless as happened several times I was taking pictures of expired butterflies. For instance, I was not able to get good shots of the blue upper wing surface of the Morpho butterflies.


So what creeped me out? Maybe it was the conspicuous lack of mention of the biology of the butterflies. For instance there is a wonderful coevolutionary relationship between Heliconid butterflies and their passion flower food plants. Maybe it was the fact that the facility does not raise its own butterflies but imports the chysalides from Central America so the visitor never gets to see the full life cycle. To be fair, I suspect other butterfly gardens do the same thing. But it does seem that there is a missed opportunity here in terms of education-maybe edutainment.
Maybe it was the silence of the butterflies coupled with country and Gospel music. Fortunately the butterflies flew to their own rhythms.


So what really what was creepy, was the total disconnect between the butterflies and any sense of the context these insects evolved in. Maybe the owners are of the mind set that butterflies were put here for our benefit and their origin and natural history are not important. Maybe they feel that any wiff of evolution or science will scare visitors away. Too bad. Too bad for the tropics, the butterflies, and quite frankly too bad for the visitors.


Coevolution of Plants and Herbivores: Passion Flower Butterflies

Woodruff W. Benson, Keith S. Brown, Jr., Lawrence E. Gilbert
Evolution, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Dec., 1975), pp. 659-680
Post a Comment