Horticulturist Courtney Quigley can be found in the Butterflies & Blooms exhibition, where she curates the species featured; mounts and tends the chrysalises, cocoons, and hatching butterflies and moths; and generally deals with all things Lepidoptera.
The mocker swallowtail (Papilio dardanus) is the newest and perhaps most fascinating butterfly here at Butterflies & Blooms.
Native to Sub-Saharan Africa, this beauty is truly one of a kind. The male mocker swallowtail is monomorphic, meaning he always looks the same. In this particular case, he is a gorgeous, butter yellow with hints of black, and two distinct swallowtails.
The female, however, is polymorphic and has the ability to mimic up to 14 different butterfly species! The species she mimics are all native African butterflies that are known to be either distasteful or poisonous to predators. Her looks have great variation and can range between all white and black, orange and black, orange with black and white, and many more options! The female form also rarely has an actual swallowtail. There are some photos below of a few of her forms.
The mocker swallowtail is particularly active in the early morning and is extremely alert, so trying to get close to these beauties is difficult. Because birds (a.k.a. predators) are also active in the early morning, this is presumably a defense tactic used by these bright butterflies. That doesn’t mean you won’t see them in the display, though! They fly around all day long, so you will definitely be able to spot a few.
Visit Butterflies & Blooms to see the swallowtail in a habitat filled with hundreds of live butterflies.
The African moon moth (Argema mimosae) is another spectacular large moth found at Butterflies & Blooms this summer. Slightly smaller than its cousin, the Giant Madagascan moon moth, or comet moth (Argema mittrei), it can be well-camouflaged among the branches in the exhibition because its bright, bright green color blends in well with new leaf growth. The four “eyespots” on the moon moth’s wings mark it as a member of the Saturniidae family—moths with concentric spot designs that mimic the rings on the planet Saturn. Saturnid moths also use a pheromone mating system in which female moths release a chemical scent trail for male moths to follow.
As a caterpillar, this native of South Africa prefers corkwood (Commiphora), marula (Sclerocarya birrea), and tamboti (Spirostachys africana), but it does not eat during its lifespan as a moth. It trades mouthparts for wings in its transformation. It also trades its green caterpillar body for a beautiful, furry coat!
Find male moths in the exhibition by checking their antennae—male moths have thicker, more strongly feathered antennae.
The first moth to emerge in the Butterflies & Blooms exhibition is the Atlas moth (Attacus atlas), which is native to Southeast Asia. The Atlas moth lives for one to two weeks, so its main purpose after emerging from its cocoon is to mate. Most moths do not have functioning mouthparts, and the Atlas will not feed at all. It survives its adult life feeding off stored fat. Though not the largest Lepidoptera in the world (that award goes to the white witch moth [Thysania agrippina]), the Atlas moth comes in second with a recorded wingspan of 262 millimeters. Several other cocoons are still in the pupa emergence room, so if you do not see this moth on your visit, you may be lucky enough to see one on a return visit. We encourage you to visit often, as new butterfly species will be emerging throughout the summer!