Visit us for Magical Morphos!
MARCH 11 – 19
Extended Hours: 9am – 6pm
There’s nothing quite as mystical as strolling through a tropical garden and having an iridescent purple-blue butterfly gracefully sail past you. Blue Morpho butterflies have been fascinating to cultures for 100’s of years, and they continue to fascinate us today.
Normally you’d have to travel to Central and South America to see this amazing group of butterflies. Morphos belong to the Nymphalidae butterfly family (the brush-foots), and then have their own subfamily, Morphinae. There are upwards of 30 species of Morphos, although scientists have also identified as many as 140 subspecies. Regardless of how their named or categorized, they’re simply amazing!
How do they achieve this azure iridescence? By specially structured scales on their wings. All butterflies & moths have scales covering their wings, head and body – this is what gives them their colours & patterns. The scales on a morpho butterfly wing are ridged in such a way as to refract the light so that it scatters and reflects blues, purples and anything in between. Scales are very tiny, and very numerous – there can be as many as 5,400 per square centimetre on the wing’s surface!
At our Conservatory, we are pleased to host the Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides). They are raised as caterpillars on a butterfly farm in Costa Rica and then shipped to us (along with hundreds of other Costa Rican butterflies) as pupae (chrysalides) . At times we have up to 400 Morphos flying in our Conservatory, although it’s important to remember that they’re not always in flight. In fact, they’re pretty good at hiding.
The bright blue which makes them so recognizable can instantly be hidden as soon as the butterfly folds up its wings. While the upper side of the wings displays a dazzling iridescence, the underside of the wings show a variety of soft browns and blacks (with hints of pink & yellow) that enable it to camouflage quite effectively. The undersides of the wings also display multiple fake eye-spots to further break up the pattern.
In this way, they can camouflage pretty well amongst the dark, deep foliage of a jungle setting. When at rest, they close their wings and effectively blend into the background. This can make it a little frustrating for photographers wishing to capture the blue iridescence! One tip for success is to watch for a Blue Morpho basking in a sunbeam and hope it opens its wings to bask in the sunshine.
Why do they even have bright blue wings then? Males use their flashy colours to attract potential mates. However, attracting attention can also have a downside, if it attracts a predator instead of a mate. So they need a way to “turn off” the blue and hide.
Come visit the Conservatory to witness these amazing butterflies as they dance around around. On a sunny day they will be the most active, showing off their shiny blue upperwings. Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled for them resting amongst the leaves & branches. And don’t pass them by should their wings be folded up: the underside of their wings are just as beautiful as the upper blue surface. They, like many people, are beautiful inside & out.