One day last week we headed down to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to visit their permanent exhibits and the Cockrell Butterfly Center. I never get tired of their dinosaurs and beautiful shells and gems, as well as the exhibits depicting the history of pre-Columbian America and the amazing animals of Africa. I could spend a day just looking at all that.
This time, as an added attraction, there was a wonderful exhibit of photographs from Big Bend, which just made me want to jump in the car and head west. But really, the main reason I wanted to go at mid-winter was to visit the butterfly center.
My yard is a bit butterfly-challenged at the moment. I see the occasional Sulphur or Question Mark, but on the whole, my garden is free of the winged creatures just now. On my visit, I hoped to see lots of the colorful beauties and take a few pictures for the blog.
When we arrived, can you guess what I realized I had left behind? You got it! My camera. Do you ever do things like that? I was so disgusted with myself that I was just about ready to turn around and leave, but my daughter promised to use her cell phone - mine was in the car - to take a few pictures, so we perservered.
Entering the butterfly habitat is like entering a sauna. This was a day when it was very cold outside, so we were dressed warmly. I was soon shedding as many garments as I decently could.
I was instantly mesmerized by all the butterflies flitting about me, some of them landing on my head or my arms. Many butterflies are fond of salty minerals, so I was probably a tasty treat for them.
The amazing variety of shapes and sizes of species from all over the world is just mind-boggling. I almost got whiplash from trying to follow the flight of each colorful flutterer that came into view. My daughter got down to the business of trying to capture some of the images. Not at all an easy task with an instrument as blunt as a cell phone trying to capture an image as delicate as a butterfly, but here is the result of her efforts.
Throughout the center, there were several of these brightly colored disposable plastic bowls with a sponge in them. The sponges were saturated with either water with minerals or a nectar-like liquid, and they were great favorites with the butterflies.
The windowsills were popular with the fliers, too. I'm not sure if they were attracted by the warmth of the sun or the condensation there. Probably both. Most of the butterflies in the enclosure were exotics that were unfamiliar to me, but there were a few that were known, like the Giant Swallowtails shown here. (These "giants," by the way, which are the biggest butterflies in our area, were dwarfed by many of the species there.) I also saw a few Monarchs, many Julias and some Zebra Longwings.
There were several of these small tables that held pieces of fruit and all of them were covered by hungry butterflies.
Here's another such table that shows you what I mean. You can hardly see the fruit for the butterflies. That plant behind the table, incidentally, is porterweed. It was used extensively throughout the enclosure, which leads me to think that I need to add more porterweed to my garden. I only have one plant at the moment and it has died back to the ground, but I assume it will be back in the spring since it came back after last winter.
Finally, take a look at this big guy. He's perched on the trunk of a small palm tree. This is an Atlas Moth. The docent told me that this is the largest moth in the world, and I can believe it! She said there were four of them presently at the center, but I only saw this one. They had just emerged, she said, and they only live for a couple of days. We were lucky to be there on day one of this critter's brief life.
As we finished our visit and left the butterfly habitat, I was still kicking myself for failing to bring my camera, but I vowed that I would come back again soon and that next time I would no longer be the forgetful blogger. I would be prepared!