The Mexican Sister (Adelpha fessonia) is one of the varieties of butterflies you'll encounter in the living "Butterflies & Blooms" exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
May 25-Sept. 2, Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe. (847) 835-5440; chicagobotanic.org
Hundreds of brilliantly colored butterflies will soon dart around the “Butterflies & Blooms” exhibition at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
As beautiful as they are to watch, they’re not just their for show, though. The exhibit, which runs May 25 to Sept 2, offers an opportunity to learn all about the life cycle and benefits of these fascinating creatures. On opening weekend, a booth will be set up where people can learn what to plant in their yard to attract butterflies.
Horticulturist Courtney Quigley said that on opening day, 830 butterflies will float around the 2,800-square-foot white mesh enclosure on the lawn of the Learning Campus. “They come from all over the world,” Quigley said. “The three main areas we focus on are Asia, Africa and the Americas.”
Quigley noted that visitors will be able to observe the entire gamut of butterfly behaviors. “We get them in as pupa, which most people refer to as cocoons, but that term only has to do with moths,” she said. “The visitors can see everything from them being attached to these wooden dowels and moving around, to emerging and then their wings growing. And then we release them.”
After that, visitors can watch them eating and mating. “Absolutely every butterfly behavior the visitors are able to see,” Quigley said.
This is the second year that the Chicago Botanic Garden has hosted the exhibition. Once again, volunteers will be on-hand to answer questions and to rescue the less brave visitors by taking butterflies off people “that are kind of freaked out,” Quigley said. “We also have four different eating trays for the butterflies and there were a lot of questions about how the butterflies eat.”
It turns out that, like Chicago Botanic Garden visitors, the butterflies dine on food from the Cafe — but only when it’s no longer appealing to people. “... slightly bruised, old or rotten fruit, which is what butterflies prefer,” Quigley said. “They don’t have any chewing mouth parts. They drink everything.”
The wide variety of plants that form the “Blooms” portion of the exhibition provide nectar for the butterflies. “We don’t have any host plants because we’re not allowed to deal with butterfly eggs because they’re so small and so easy to escape. Since these are exotic species, we want to keep everybody happy in the tent,” Quigley said. “We only have nectar-providing plants.”
Quigley noted that what she finds most fascinating about them is how their eyes work. “They see a whole different world than we do. We see up to violet on the UV spectrum and they see a couple colors that we’re able to, but nothing on the lower frequencies.” They do, however, see higher frequency colors that humans are not able to detect.
Most butterflies have a very short lifespan — two to four weeks — but some, like the monarchs, live about six months. Despite that short life, butterflies serve a valuable purpose.
“They’re excellent pollinators,” Quigley said.
Myrna Petlicki is a Sun-Times free-lance writer.