Posts Tagged ‘Neotropics’

Owl Butterfly (Caligo memnon)

Giant Owl butterfly (Caligo memnon)

This snowy weather is a good time to revisit the Montreal Botanical Garden displays that we saw on February 21st. The most popular winter feature is probably the display of live butterflies. There are actually two separate areas, one for Creatures of Darkness and another for Creatures of Light.

We visited the Creatures of Darkness greenhouse first. The greenhouse isn’t really dark, but the light is somewhat muted. There are five species listed for this display in the flyer that accompanies the exhibition, but we just saw one, the Giant Owl butterfly (Caligo memnon), pictured above. There were quite a few of them though, and they were easy to spot.


Giant Owl Butterfly with wings open.

The photo above shows an Owl Butterfly resting in a dim corner with its wings spread. The genus Caligo includes about 20 species. It’s obvious that the common name, Owl butterflies, refers to the owl-eye pattern on the underwings. it’s quite convincing, with even a streak of white mimicking the glint of an eye. Caligo is derived from the latin for darkness. Owl butterflies prefer to fly at dusk, when there are fewer of their avian predators about. Caligos are found in Mexico and south through Central America to South America.

Below is a view of the second and larger butterfly exhibit room, which houses the Creatures of Light.


Creatures of Light greenhouse

What a wonderful experience! There are butterflies everywhere, big, colourful tropical beauties, floating, nectering, resting. The most eye-catching are the blue butterflies, Blue Morphos.

Common Morpho (Morpho helenor limpida)

Common Morpho (Morpho helenor limpida)

So far as I was able to conclude from research via Google, the Blue Morphos include assorted subspecies of Morpho helenor. The Blue Morphos are residents of the neotropical rainforests. Limpida is at home in Costa Rica, while peleides hails from Columbia.

Emperor Morpho (Morpho helenor peleides)

Emperor Morpho (Morpho helenor peleides)

When the Blue Morphos close their wings, they look like an entirely different butterfly, as their underwings are a richly patterned brown. The blue upper wings actually have brownish-grey scales, but their special structure reflects light in a manner that makes them appear blue.

Blue Morph (Morpho helenor)

Blue Morph (Morpho helenor)

We also saw a few ‘butterfly balls’, a mass of Blue Morphs congregating together. I found references online that say Blue Morphs engage in a mobbing activity meant to discourage predators, so perhaps that’s what is happening in these butterfly balls.


Blue Morpho "Butterfly Ball"

Most Morphos are blue, but there are a few other colours represented in the genus as well. Here is a White Morpho.

White Morpho (Morpho polyphemus)

White Morpho (Morpho polyphemus)

Here’s a neotropical resident you might recognise from your own backyard! It’s a Monarch, famous for its incredible migration from the rainforests north to Canada each spring as it follows the blooming of milkweed plants.

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)


Butterfly hatchery

New butterflies arrive as a chrysalis and hatch in the greenhouse.  You can watch butterflies emerging within the glass nursery.  The Montreal Botanical Garden website has this to say about the sourcing of butterflies:

The butterflies in Butterflies Go Free come from butterfly farms in 10 different countries. Butterfly farms are a way to protect butterflies and their habitats by creating fair-trade, sustainable businesses that get local communities involved. By encouraging butterfly farms through the years, the Montréal Insectarium has preserved more than 50 hectares of rainforest in Costa Rica, the equivalent of 100 soccer fields.


Fruit Plate

The butterflies feed on fruit juices and you can watch an array of butterflies feeding at the plates set out around the greenhouse.

Emerald Swallowtail  (Papilio palinurus)

Emerald Swallowtail (Papilio palinurus)

The genus Papilio is also well represented in the greenhouse. Emerald Swallowtails are native to southeastern Asia, including Indonesia and the Phillipines. The green of the Emerald Swallowtail, above, is similar to the blue of the Blue Morphos in that it is not produced by pigments. Rather, it is created by the microstructure of the wing scales. They refract the light and give rise to blue and yellow visible reflections, which give the perception of green.

Great Mormon Swallowtail (Papilio memnon) male

Great Mormon Swallowtail (Papilio memnon) male

The colours of the Great Mormon Swallowtail are more subtle. Papilio memnon is a wide-spread butterfly, found from India through southern China and Japan and south. It has four male and many female forms, the females being highly polymorphic. Some forms mimic unpalatable butterflies and as many as 26 female forms have been recorded.

Great Mormon (Papilio memnon) female

Great Mormon (Papilio memnon) female

The Paper Kite is also native to the Philipines and Malaysia region of southeast Asia.

Paper Kite (Idea leuconoe)

Paper Kite (Idea leuconoe)

In the dim recesses of vegetation, I noticed this pair of Scarlet Swallowtails mating.

butterflypair Scarlet Swallowtail (Papilio rumanzovia)

Scarlet Swallowtail (Papilio rumanzovia)

Finally, here is a photograph of a group of Great Mormon Swallowtails forming their own butterfly cascade. The Butterflies Go Free exhibit runs at the Montreal Botanical Gardens until April 29th. It’s highly recommended as a beautiful and informative place to visit.

butterflywaterfall (Papilio memnon)

Great Mormon Swallowtails (Papilio memnon)

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Coffee growing under rainforest canopy

Coffee growing under rainforest canopy

The coffee shrub is native to the rainforests of Ethiopia. Introduced to Brazil by the mid-1700s, coffee plantations today cover an estimated 7 million acres in the northern Neotropics from Columbia and Brazil to Mexico. Traditionally, coffee has been grown on the side of mountains, where it thrives in the shade of trees and provides habitat for both native species and wintering migratory birds.

In the 1930s, ornithologist Ludlow Griscom noted that the birds found in shaded coffee plantations varied little from those found in undisturbed forest. Since then, studies have confirmed that not only birds, but also mammals, reptiles, and insects thrive on shade coffee plantations. As rainforest in the Neotropics continues to disappear, shade coffee plantations have become a vital resource for birds and other wildlife.

Sun-grown coffee plantation (Photo credit: wikipedia)

Sun-grown coffee plantation (Photo credit: wikipedia)

But coffee grows slowly. Coffee bushes take 3 to 4 years to mature. Over the last 20 years, coffee growers have been replacing traditional varieties with new, high yielding, sun-tolerant varieties. Full-sun farming requires the removal of the forest and replaces it with a virtual biological desert. Without the forest birds to eat insects, and decaying materials to feed the plants, sun-grown coffee requires the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers. At least half of the coffee grown in the Neotropics has been converted to full sun. You can read more about coffee plantations at Coffee and Conversation.


Buying shade-grown coffee is probably the most important thing you can do to help save the rainforest and protect migratory birds. A number of brands of certified shade-grown coffee are readily available. Many of the grocery stores in southern Ontario carry Kicking Horse coffee in their organic section. When you drink a cup of shade-grown, organic, fair-trade coffee, you are getting your day off to a good start! You can practically feel the glow of a halo as you contribute to these important causes! All by enjoying a great cup of coffee! What could be better?


Fair trade and organic coffees are not necessarily shade-grown. Look for the shade-grown certification to be certain. If you can’t find shade grown coffee in your local supermarket, try specialty stores and organic foodstuff sellers. You can also purchase shade-grown coffee easily online.
Some other brands I found locally include the following:


Foodsmiths coffee is packaged for a local organics store by Creemore Coffee Company. You can buy shade-grown coffee directly from Creemore Coffee at creemorecoffee.com.


You can buy shade-grown coffee from Salt Spring Coffee at saltspringcoffee.com.

Another online source is Birds and Beans Coffee.

Still drinking instant??? Most instant coffee is made from the poorest, sun-grown beans. If you purchase an inexpensive one-cup or small-pot coffeemaker, brewing the real thing is very fast. You can enjoy a better cup of coffee and help the birds with a minimum effort. Wake up and smell the coffee!

The Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) is a migratory bird seen around Willow House in the summer that is often found on shade-grown coffee plantations in the winter.

The Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) is a bird seen around Willow House in the summer that is often found on shade-grown coffee plantations in the winter.

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