Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bestiary :: The Sound of One Wing Flapping

Death's-head Hawk Moth

Until recently there was a tear in the space-time continuum of inner-Melbourne suburb, Carlton. A shop that was called Wunderkammer -- and really was. Pushing open the door of the shop on bleak Elgin St instantly transplanted the visitor to another time and place. Given the sad state of the space and time most Australians find themselves in, it was remarkably uncrowded. I always thought that it was far cheaper than airplane travel and far more accessible than a time-travel machine. Despite the fact that this establishment is itself a reminder that all flesh is dust, our doughty cerebralists have discovered a positive treasure house of remnants and reminders of that marvellous half shop, half idée fixe.

This shard also caught our eye.

A Palette of Wings: The Natural History of Butterfly Collecting reminds us that there are things even more ephemeral than the powdery wings of moths and butterflies. The works of (hu)Man, just for starters. Butterfly collections were once the domain of the enthusiast – captured, killed and arranged in response to personal imperatives, idiosyncratic taxonomies, unknowable desires. Now the great personal collections of the 18th and 19th centuries have mostly been dissembled and re-arranged ‘systematically’, according to the strictures of modern taxonomy. This short essay, replete with gorgeous examples of Lepidoptera, includes a useful overview of the process of preparing specimens for display. It seems to involve a lot of bits of paper and methods to 'relax' the justifiably tense butterfly.

I must say, Inky never seems to fuss around with his collection half so much -- and he's the most distinguished Entomotaxist I know.

Although I got him with this one!

Butterflies you can see through. It turns out that these are not quite as rare as you might suppose. For example, Scotland is not a country one associates with the small and delicate, yet it is the home of the astonishing…Glasswing

And most of South America seems to be infested with the sneaky functionally-invisible things.

The commonest seems to be the Greta oto. This is a butterfly after MoD’s own heart – a poisonous nightshade feeder that converts it toxicity to come-hither pheromones when the time is right...

From Wikipedia >>
“Greta oto is a brush-footed butterfly, and is a member of the clearwing clade. Its Spanish name is espejitos, which means "little mirrors." It is one of the more abundant clearwing species in its home range, which extends throughout Central America into Mexico. Its wingspan is between 5.5 and 6 cm. Adults inhabit the rainforest understory and feed on the nectar of a variety of tropical flowers. G. oto prefers to lay its eggs on plants of the tropical nightshade genus Cestrum. The silvery-gray caterpillars feed on these toxic plants and store the alkaloids in their tissues, making them distasteful to predators such as birds. They retain their toxicity in adulthood. The same alkaloids that make them poisonous also are converted into pheromones by the males, which use them to attract females. G. oto adults also exhibit a number of interesting behaviors, such as long migrations and lekking among males.”
Even Australia has its own Glasswing -- also commonly called Little Greasy and Small Greasy... Australians being the poetic types they are. Australia’s Glasswing Butterflies, found in Queensland, are not quite so impressively transparent.

Of course there really isn’t any truly good news.
“As human populations grow, butterfly populations tend to shrink. Thus, the future of the exotic glasswing butterfly is uncertain. As part of the growing international trade of butterflies, specimens are often taken from the wild, but may also be cultivated for sale on butterfly ranches. Intensive farming with agrochemicals and increased ranching in the Andes greatly threaten the glasswing species and its associates. Other activities that make room for man, such as extensive logging and coal mining, also devastate the crucial habitat of the glasswings”
North Coast Cafe blog >>


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