From both sides now

This beauty has two sides that are equally incredible. Some butterflies have one drab side and one bright side depending on what part of the forest canopy they forage and hang out in. (From the specimen collection of Annette Aiello)


(Right) There is a difference between living off your host and devouring your host. These wasps devoured their host. This is what emerged from the pupa.

Scientist trabajando

Workstation of entomologist Annette Aeillo. She was showing me a caterpillar that hides itself by curling up to resemble a bird dropping on a leaf.

Magic cabinet

Here is Annette Aiello in her lab, showing one of her cabinets of specimens. She’s worked for Smithsonian since 1977, the year I started grad school. Her bookcases are full of notebooks, carefully numbered and kept. Her father was a famous manikin designer and he sculpted them and then, later, even manufactured them in their ┬ábasement. He would let the children watch him sculpt and work if they were very still and didn’t speak. She said there’d be a row of 8 neighborhood kids in their basement, sitting silent and still for hours watching him. Also, one of her first jobs was working at a jewelry shop. Little white boxes…shiny, beautiful objects….precious.


Here’s a different Morpho variation (than the one on the blog cover)…and there are numerous Morpho species. Their wing scales actually are CLEAR, not blue, but just reflect that color. Here, you see the male and female…the pupae next to them don’t belong to them, but their pupae are rather larger like these.

Curing a butterfly

Aiello has a special cabinet where her newer specimens are “curing”. Carefully laid out in constructions she’s honed over the years. This one is recent…a specimen someone brought to her.

Room for antennae

This pattern would be camouflage in the forest. Seeing multitudes of them together is mysteriously inspirational for me. The pupae casing has room for antennae in it’s form. Aiello saves each piece as an artifact, labeling them with a tiny description in 5pt type. The boxes remind me of artist Joseph Cornell.

Quatro Pupae

The variety of tiny shapes of the pupae of the Agraulis vanillae and the furry, discarded head of the caterpillar are sculptural wonders.

The other side

I posted a live Owl butterfly in October of last year that was living on BCI. The amazement of how evolution could be such a precise painter never fades.

Transformative Heliconius

No one knows exactly why there is a row of spines on the pupa. When speaking with Aiello, one realizes that the number of questions about butterflies, and …insects is infinite. There is so much to know about so many species and we have not scratched the surface. Hopefully, some of the information we glean from study will unlock answers to help all species on this planet.