100 Years – 100 Objects: Madagascar Sunset Moth

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Nancy, the museum’s director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center and curator of entomology. She’s chosen a selection of objects that represent the rarest and most interesting insects in the Museum’s collections,that we’ll be sharing here – and at 100.hmns.org- throughout the year.

Madagascar Sunset Moth – Chrysiridia rhipheus

Madagascar Sunset Moth-6x5This spectacular, iridescently colored moth is considered by many to be the most beautiful of all Lepidoptera (the order of “scaly winged” insects, i.e., butterflies and moths). A day-flying moth endemic to Madagascar, it was originally described as a butterfly due to its resemblance to the swallowtails. The rainbow of colors on both upper and lower wing surfaces that make this species so sought after by collectors are not due to pigments, but result from the scattering and reflecting of light by microscopic ridges and pits on the highly curved scales covering the wings.

The museum has several hundred specimens of this moth.  It is relatively common in its native habitat, where it periodically undergoes massive one-way migrations when the hostplants for the caterpillar stage (they feed on trees in the spurge family) increase the amount of distasteful toxins in the leaves.  Interestingly, after the migration has lessened pressure on the hostplant, the amount of toxins in the leaves subsides to normal levels.  In the American tropics, a close relative, the green Urania moth (Urania fulgens), also makes mass migrations for the same reason.

Learn more about moths and their relatives in a visit to the new Brown Hall of Entomology, a part of the Cockrell Butterfly Center– a living, walk-through rainforest at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the 100 Objects section at 100.hmns.org

100 Years – 100 Objects: Teinopalpus Imperialis

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Nancy, the museum’s director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center and curator of entomology. She’s chosen a selection of objects that represent the rarest and most interesting insects in the Museum’s collections,that we’ll be sharing here – and at 100.hmns.org- throughout the year.

Kaiser-I-Hind or Emperor of India or Teinopalpus imperialis

Kaiser-I-Hind or Emperor of India - Teinopalpus imperialis resizeThis stunning swallowtail is very rare, threatened both by over-collecting and by increasing destruction of its habitat.  Found in small pockets in northeastern India, Nepal, and Bhutan at 6,000 to 10,000 feet in the Himalayan mountains, it is today protected by Indian law but is still hunted illegally, as its unusual and beautiful coloration, and its rarity, make it highly prized by collectors.  Luckily, its strong, rapid, irregular flight and habit of perching high up in trees makes it difficult to capture.

The female (bottom photo), larger than the male, has several “tails” on the hindwing and large gray areas on both fore and hindwings.  The smaller male (top photos, upper side on left, underside on right) is a brighter green, with a brilliant yellow patch on the hindwing and only one tail.  Caterpillars feed on the leaves of trees in the laurel family.

Learn more about butterflies and their relatives in a visit to the new Brown Hall of Entomology, a part of the Cockrell Butterfly Center– a living, walk-through rainforest at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the 100 Objects section at 100.hmns.org

Out in the garden

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For the past few weeks, the Cockrell Butterfly Center Staff and Dedicated Greenhouse volunteers have been busy enhancing the exterior Butterfly Demonstration Garden. The garden is located outside the Main Hall exit near the Cockrell Butterfly Center’s entrance doors. This garden comes complete with a stone path, an arch for a climbing Passionflower vine and lots of beautiful red, blue, yellow and white blooming nectar sources.  We also make available the host plants for the caterpillars to feed on. Permanently affixed to the center of the garden, sits a framed pictorial directory of host plants and nectar plants. We are in the process of updating the poster with some new species which we feel perform well for the garden and its all important visitors the delightful, graceful, jewels with wings.  If you want to see what a specimen plant that is listed on our Butterfly Gardening brochure looks like, this demonstration garden is a great place to start.

While we worked in the garden, we were visited by Phoebis sennae, Sulphur butterflies. These are the yellow ones quite often seen in our great city. A Papilio cresphontes, Giant Swallowtail, spent about 20 minutes laying eggs on the Wafer ash tree. Other visitors were the Battus polydamas, also called the” Goldrim,” happily feasting upon the Bauhinia mexicana blooms.

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We were visited by quite a few squirrels busily scampering about up and down the tree trunks.  A female red breasted robin was busy teaching her young ones how to retrieve the earth worms erupting from the fresh earth as we turned it over with our shovels. Our time spent in the garden was a nature nurturing delight.

Just beyond the roped fence, sits a paved patio with picnic tables shaded by large cloth umbrellas available for visitors to enjoy their lunch.  Not a day goes by that you don’t see native species of butterflies fluttering about while you munch on your lunch. Next time you are at the museum, take time to view this garden and see what plants you might want to place in your own garden.  Feel free to pick up a free Butterfly Gardening Brochure available on the plant cart outside of the Collector’s gift shop.