Friday 5: Dreamy Butterflies

I’m back online!!!  My husband and I went on a short vacation this week too, but we got a new cable modem and router when we got home and we’re back to our regular virtual lives.  And, since I first had problems getting photos uploaded from my memory cards to my computer and then had the internet connection issues, I’ve got a huge backlog of photos to share!  First up, I’m going to share 5 photos from my recent mini-vacation.  But first, a little story.

When I was in high school, my sister and I did a National History Day project together, a video about a railroad war in Colorado.  In the end we made it to Nationals in Washington D.C. and went with a group of other students from my high school to compete and sight see in the nation’s capitol.  It was the first time my sis and I had ever been east of Arkansas or to a truly big city, so we were fascinated by everything.  We especially loved our trip to the Smithsonian.  Unlike most of the rest of the people in our group, we didn’t want to spend our precious 4 hours at the Smithsonian in the Museum of History, so we ditched our group and headed to the National Museum of Natural History instead.  However, we had so little time there that we had to rush through most of the exhibits and we missed several of them entirely.  I have always wanted  to go back to D. C. and do things on my own schedule, largely so I could see the rest of that fabulous museum.

When my husband and I had 3 days of vacation together and he suggested we go to D.C., I readily accepted.  This time, I got to spend almost the entire day in the Museum of Natural History!  We still didn’t see all of it, but I saw the things I most wanted to.  The insect zoo was largely as I remembered it, except now they have a butterfly house too.  My husband, being the terribly good sport that he is (he’s scared of insects), handed over the $12 necessary for us to see the butterfly exhibit and in we went!  We spent over a half hour in the exhibit and I shot a good 300 butterfly photos.  However, I didn’t have my flashes with me, so I had to rely entirely on the lighting in the room.  That meant that the lighting is really wonky on a lot of the photos I took, but some of them look positively dreamy.  Here are my five favorites in the latter category:

Buckeye  Lemon Pansy


Lemon pansy

Thanks to Katie at Nature ID for pointing out that this butterfly is NOT in fact a buckeye!  I didn’t think it looked quite right because it was missing the second eyespot on the hind wing, but I assumed that the signage in the exhibit was up to date and accurately reflected the butterflies flying the day I was there. That was not the case, but Katie hunted down an ID for me: lemon pansy.  Thanks Katie!  What I wrote before is completely inaccurate, so now there’s no story associated with this butterfly apart from this: I thought it was pretty, so I took a photo.  Do I really need to say more?  :)

This is a local, American butterfly, but they have always held a special place in my heart.  Until I moved to North Carolina and started seeing them often, these were a really rare find for me.  My one and only buckeye has always been my most prized butterfly in my collection.  It was great to see them featured at the Smithsonian!




An American species, but this butterfly is amazing!  I’m sure you all know about the migration of the monarchs, how they fly from Canada and the northern US south to Michoacan, Mexico every fall and hang out in truly astounding numbers on just a few mountain tops.  Seeing the monarchs overwintering is on my life to do list, and I fully expect it to be one of the most amazing things I will ever see in my lifetime.  Plus, monarchs are just so darned pretty!

Julia Longwings

Julia Longwing

Julia longwing

And one more American butterfly species!  This one only barely makes it into the US on the very northern edge of its range, but it will occasionally make it as far north as Nebraska.  I have never seen one of these out in the wild, but I’ve rarely been to areas where I might expect to see them at the proper time of year. Maybe someday!  In the meantime, I go to a lot of butterfly houses and these are pretty common in both the tropical and the native butterfly exhibits.

Leopard Lacewing

Leopard Lacewing

Leopard lacewing

These gorgeous butterflies are native to southeastern Asia and feed on passionflower.  While our American monarchs are suffering a huge decline this year, the leopard lacewing range is actually expanding and they are becoming more abundant and common.  The caterpillars are fantastic, striped with black, yellow, and red and sporting long filaments.  The pupae look rather like bird poop.   You have to admire an insect that goes from a bright stripey wormy looking things to something that looks like bird crap to the spectacular butterfly you see above!

Paper Kite

Paper Kite

Paper kite

I know they’re just black and white, but I have always had a thing for white with bold, black markings.  I love these butterflies!  Like the leopard lacewings, the paper kites are native to southern Asia where they feed on a variety of dogbanes.  They’re very popular in butterfly houses, so I’ve seen these in nearly every tropical butterfly house I’ve ever been to.  The pupae make a spectacular addition to any butterfly exhibit as well: they’re metallic gold!  Just spectacular.

I am so thrilled that I got to go back to the National Museum of Natural History! And I am already planning all the exhibits I’ll make time for the next time we go. At least now I live a mere 4.5 hours from D.C., so I can make an easy, quick trip there on nearly any three-day weekend.  And speaking of three-day weekends, I hope all my American readers have a great Memorial Day!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

15 thoughts on “Friday 5: Dreamy Butterflies

  1. It’s been quite awhile since I visited DC–long before my interest in entomology began. I wonder if it’s ever possible for “non-professionals” to go “behind the scenes” at the NMNH and see the collections.

    • It’s definitely possible. Contact the collections manager or one of the technical staff: You’ll likely be limited to one department, unless there’s a R&C collaborative promotion/fundraiser of behind-the-scenes tours, which I don’t know if the Smithsonian does. When I worked at CMNH, I gave quite a few individual tours to those who asked nicely, respected my busy schedule, and didn’t seem like nut jobs (you get all kinds), and we also did members-only and college class BTS tours a couple times a year. Just ask!

  2. These are stunning photographs. I’m a wildlife illustrator from Australia, and are truly fascinated be butterflies and basically any winged creature. I just finished a series of illustration on 6 Australian native, but these are so beautiful I think I may have to branch out.

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  4. The botanical gardens had the butterfly exhibit last year and will have it again shortly. I’m amazed at the different butterflies that are there, but few of them are native to the U.S.. I enjoyed seeing what was in the one you went to.


    • Thanks! And I hope you get to see the butterfly exhibit at your bot garden again this year. I happily went nearly every year to the one in Tucson just because I loved getting to see all the different butterflies that I never get to see anywhere else. It’s fun!

  5. Great pictures!

    If it’s like the butterfly house I worked at, they likely have at least a few hundred (if not a couple thousand) species on their permit, and what they get in will be somewhat dependent on the whim of the supplier–signage is usually limited to a handful of easy-to-ID species that they get in regularly, rather than being comprehensive (certainly for groups like heliconids, with a lot of mimicry and variable coloration, signage isn’t going to help the average person get them to species level anyway!).

    • Ah, that makes sense! The Smithsonian sign had really nifty sliding wooden blocks with the butterfly names on it that could be rearranged and replaced with others as new species came in, but of course they might not keep it perfectly up to date. And yes, heliconids are definitely difficult. There are just so many of them and so much variation!

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