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.
Early to mid-June is the greenest and lushest time in our experimental and ever-changing Green Roof Garden, one of the few rooftop landscapes in the area that invites the public in for a visit.
Now in its fourth growing season, the 16,000-square-foot garden creates an oasis atop the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center. The green expanse helps reduce rainwater runoff and insulate the building from heat and cold. The garden also serves as living laboratory under the stewardship of Richard Hawke, plant evaluation manager.
“This is so new to us. We didn’t know what to expect. It’s been a complete learning process,” said Hawke, who has evaluated nearly 230 types of plants each year since the fall of 2009. “We want to keep testing and trying and increasing the palette each year.”
Hawke has watched nature take a hand in creating a pleasing meadow effect across the less formal Ellis Goodman Family Foundation Green Roof Garden South. “More people are drawn to this than ever,” Hawke said. “It’s just become a true landscape.”
The skyblue aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense) is “finally established and starting to do its own thing,” he said, and flowering for the first time are the dwarf false indigo (Amorpha nana) and largeleaf wild indigo (Baptisia alba var. alba). The latter takes its time in a landscape, first putting down a taproot—hard to do in eight inches of growing medium! Once established, it sends up a tall spike of showy, white flowers that bloom for several weeks. Like other members of the bean or legume family, wild indigo improves the soil by increasing its nitrogen levels.
The deep coral native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is beginning to spread, blending into the lavender and white blooms of the hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus) and foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) growing nearby. Bright yellow lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) and the silvery, feathery foliage of field sagewort (Artemisia campestris ssp. Caudate) add to the prairie aesthetic with their layered colors and textures.
The more formally planted Josephine P. & John J. Louis Foundation Green Roof Garden North features wavy patches of sedums, a popular rooftop variety, alternating with familiar cultivars of plants. Flowering bulbs bring the garden into color in early spring. Mourning doves, robins, swallows, mallards, Baltimore orioles, and purple finches count among its bird visitors.
Evaluations of perennial plants typically take four years, but Hawke is sensing that it may take more time than that to tease out the “best that can be grown on a rooftop.” Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) has proved to be the top-performing grass, providing an elegant fine texture and remaining dark green even in the worst of last summer’s drought. Some plants have thrived, others have merely survived, and others have all but disappeared from the landscape over the evaluation period. Hawke has learned, for example, that the pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) is doing better than the more commonly known purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Yarrow is not doing as well as he expected, but prostrate junipers show promise. “Our goal was to learn everything we possibly could about growing plants on a green roof,” he said. “I still think there’s a lot more to learn.”
Hummingbirds zip here and there so quickly that I’m not always sure if I see what I think I see. Often, I hear the low buzz of their wings before I actually see them. Zip, zip, zip, there they go. Can I focus in time? Is my shutter speed fast enough? These are just a few of the challenges of photographing these beautiful “jewels of the air.”
If you see one of these gems, it is virtually guaranteed to be the ruby-throated hummingbird, the sole breeding hummingbird of the eastern United States. They winter in Central America, and spend the summers in North America. There are often breeding pairs here at the Chicago Botanic Garden. You can see them feeding if you know where to look.
I always check their favorite flowers: any color of trumpet-shaped flowers, red and orange flowers, and even flowering trees. I’ve seen them regularly in three places in the Garden.
One area is in and around the English Walled Garden. You can stand on the main sidewalk and watch them as they visit the flowers and then rest on one of the small trees. They will often visit the same patch of flowers over and over again and then go back to the same perch, giving you a perfect chance to snap a few photos. I use at least a 200mm lens and prefer my 300mm lens for best results. I set my camera to f8, 1/1000 of a second, for sharp shots with just a touch of wing blur. I use manual focus and take lots of photos. I’d say I get one good photo for every 15 or 20 I take! So keep at it! These are tricky birds to get in the air.
Another good place to find hummingbirds is around the Sensory and Enabling Gardens. It’s a large area, but walk around and look for the colorful flowers. There is a good chance a hummingbird will be nearby.
The third place where I often see them in late summer is in the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden. There is a nice patch of bright red salvia near the little pond, which seems to be a favorite hangout for hummingbirds. You can just park yourself a few feet away from the flowers, wait 15 minutes or so, and most likely a hummingbird will stop by!
But be ready, as you just might have a close encounter with a hummingbird almost anywhere in the Garden. I’ve seen them by the Bulb Garden, the Fruit & Vegetable Garden, McDonald Woods, the Native Plant Garden, and even out in the Prairie! It’s always a thrill and a joy to see these amazing birds any day, and if I happen to get a photo, well that’s just the icing on the cake.
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!