Under the leaves of the double (petal) fuchsia hibiscus is where the butterflies sleep. The withered hibiscus leaves dying and hanging, provide the perfect camouflage for the butterflies. If light does not reflect on their folding wings or their shimmering patterns, you just don’t know – that is where the butterflies sleep after dark.
How did I know this? I was helping my mother late one evening to prune these beautiful hibiscus bushes and I saw the butterflies. There were lots of them under the leaves – hanging upside down like the flying foxes. As soon as light arrived the next morning, I went to check and the butterflies had gone.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is home to the world’s largest butterfly – the “Ornithoptera alexandrae” or Queen Alexandra birdwing. Its wingspan can grow to 25cm. Queen Alexandra only breeds and lives in the Managalas Plateau in Eastern PNG or Oro Province. The butterfly numbers are unknown, and its habitat is increasingly disappearing. There are also concerns that the number of the large butterflies are depleting.
The Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing is on the red list of threatened species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and its international trade is banned. From the perspective of species conservationists, the butterfly satisfies all of the criteria to make it a critically endangered species.
Walter Rothschild discovered the species in 1907 and named it after Alexandra of Denmark. The first European to discover the butterfly was one of Rothschild’s employee, Albert Stewart Meek during their expedition to Papua New Guinea.
Unusual Reproductive Biology
The threatened butterfly is vulnerable because of its unusual reproductive biology. The female lays its eggs exclusively on a poisonous vine called Aristolochia. Once the caterpillars have hatched, they ingest the plant’s toxic leaves, making them unpalatable for potential predators.
The Aristolochia winds its way up into the crowns of jungle trees, which can grow to heights of up to 40 meters (131 feet). The butterfly would be lost without the vine, so propagating the Aristolochia is one of the main goals of conservationists.
Making ordinary things become extra-ordinary is what artist Kristi Malakoff lives for.
Malakoff is a Canadian visual artist who has returned to Canada after time spent living abroad, most recently in Moscow, Russia, where she participated in a 2-month residency at Proekt Fabrika in the spring of 2010, and previously in Berlin, Germany, Reykjavík, Iceland and London, England where she attended the Chelsea College of Art and Design.
I particularly like her “swarmed” series. Visit her website to see more of her work. In the work displayed here, she used 6000 pictures of butterflies to create a vast swarm of butterflies.
Last month, many butterflies hatched on my lime trees. I have been looking through some of the You Tube videos to see how Butterflies transform – well, I have seen hundreds but they are still very interesting. The ones that grew on my two lime trees are now flying about in the yard which is wonderful to see. In this YouTube video, the complete life-cycle of the Monarch butterfly is shown from a tiny caterpillar hatching from an egg on a Milkweed leaf through metamorphosis to become a glorious adult butterfly. Filmed utilizing high-powered microscopic cameras and time-lapse photography. Produced for the Chicago Nature Museum in Chicago, IL.