Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Local Fauna: Butterflies of N.C.

American Lady

What can butterflies teach us? Plenty, according to Jeffrey Pippen, an instructor at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. For instance, even as caterpillars, they know instinctively what’s good for them and what’s not. That’s not always true for humans.

“So by studying butterfly/plant interactions, we may discover some properties of plants that could potentially be useful to humans as well,” Pippen says.

You can learn more about butterflies in Duke Gardens’ next “Local Fauna” course, “Butterflies of North Carolina,” which Pippen will teach Aug. 6 and 13. The indoor/outdoor class will cover butterflies’ life histories, physiology, anatomy and behaviors, as well as how to identify them in the field. Read on for a taste of Pippen’s passion for butterflies at Duke Gardens and elsewhere, which he shared in an email interview.

On butterflies’ life stages:
Butterflies are amazing creatures at all of their life stages! Eggs are often camouflaged or hidden and sometimes intricately patterned. Caterpillars are amazing eating machines with interesting self-preservation behaviors. Pupae (chrysalises) undergo a pretty incredible transformation from wingless caterpillar to winged adult. And adults can be incredibly patterned and have interesting "personalities" that are just plain fun to watch!

Pearl Crescent

On survival:
Butterflies show myriad adaptations for survival, including eating poisonous plants as caterpillars and storing or using those toxins (at no harm to themselves) for protection against predators.

On butterflies in the Gardens:
Duke Gardens is a great place to search for butterflies! Participants may see two or three species of swallowtails, a couple of species of sulphurs, Cabbage White, a couple of species of hairstreaks, Eastern Tailed-Blue, several species of brushfoots (e.g. Pearl Crescent, American Lady, Common Buckeye, Monarch, etc.), and several species of skippers (e.g. Silver-spotted Skipper, duskywings, Fiery Skipper, Sachem, etc.)

Cabbage White

On a Duke Gardens rarity you may see:
Brazilian Skipper: They're pretty rare in this part of the state, although if there's enough canna planted, it's certainly a species to look for.

Brazilian Skipper

On this month’s class:
I'd like folks to come away from the class thinking, "Wow, butterflies are kinda cool! I've learned to identify several of them, and they're pretty fun to watch."

I think it's important for more people to be aware of the diversity of butterflies and how they fit into a healthy ecosystem. That way, more people will be concerned about environmental issues that affect all of us, and there will be more folks out there who could add to our understanding of butterfly knowledge in North Carolina. There's still a lot we actually do not know about N.C. butterflies. Perhaps some students of this class will go on to solve some of these mysteries!

CLASS INFO: “Butterflies of North Carolina,” a 2-class course, runs Aug. 6 & 13 from 8 to 11 a.m. The cost is $75; $60 for Gardens members and Duke staff and students. To register, or for more information, please contact Duke Gardens’ registrar at 668-1707 or slsmith@duke.edu. Also, be sure to check out Pippen’s nature photo website. For a full schedule of classes, tours and other events, please see our July-Dec. brochure (PDF) or our quick reference blog post.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. The Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.
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