Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Flying flowers

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, photographs, butterflies

When I was a child, I was told some story of the prettiest flowers taking wing and becoming butterflies. This isn't hard to imagine when you are little, and the hordes of butterflies that were common in the 1950s would burst from a flowerbed upon my approach. But no matter how carefully I watched, I never saw an actual flower take wing.

This image, from page 147 of Butterfly by Thomas Marent, shows the common swallowtail we called the Tiger Swallowtail where I grew up. It occurs throughout the Northern hemisphere. It was not a very common sight fifty years ago, but is now one of the more commonly seen butterflies, one of the survivors of the habitat and toxin assault that has decimated butterfly populations.

Butterfly is a coffee-table book, and I couldn't resist it, in spite of its size (my place is cluttered enough already). I scanned a few images from the book that show how the author presents all life stages of butterflies and moths. I am not sure how your browser will group the next three images, so I present them in a clump. First the egg, not of the swallowtail but of a ringlet (p 78); then the head of a swallowtail larva (p 87); finally a swallowtail pupa, or chrysalis (p 135). A section of the book covers metamorphosis, including some larvae that change appearance with each molt.

The author also presents a few montages of common elements, such as toxic and venemous spines on caterpillars or the variations of the "88" and "89" butterflies, or these eyespots shown here (p 236). This is just a portion of the montage. My scanner isn't big enough for even one whole page of the book, let alone a 2-page spread! Anyway, taking too big an image would violate at least the spirit of Fair Use. If you enjoy these few tidbits, you'll love the whole book.

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