Readers’ wildlife photographs

Reader Mark Sturtevant sent some lovely photos of butterflies. His notes are indented:

We have long winters here in Michigan, and by spring I could wait no longer to get back into macrophotography. So I visited a local butterfly house that opens for a few weeks at our local botanical garden (Dow gardens in Michigan). I thought that this might be rather lame and a bit like shooting fish in a barrel (it did turn out to be very easy), but I had fabulous time and so I visited that establishment a second time and then off I went to the butterfly house at the Detroit Zoo. I think I got my fix. Besides bringing my usual kit (a stock 50mm on extension tubes), these visits gave me a chance to try out my fancy ‘new’ lens, the ancient Canon 100-300mm f/5.6 ‘L’ series lens. The surprisingly cheap $200 price of this lens on e-Bay is at once explained by its incredibly cheap build. One has to admit, though, that it really is an ‘L’ lens (which are the top of the line lenses for Canon), and damn can it take sharp pictures. That lens was occasionally supplemented with an attached Raynox 150 lens, for which I gladly thank reader Lou Jost for recommending this add-on to me. If readers are curious, one should be able to access the EXIF data from the pictures to see which pictures were taken with which lens.

The first two pictures are of the Great Mormon (Papilio memnon), a swallowtail butterfly that ranges through southern Asia. This individual is a male, identified by its markings and lack of tails on its hind wings. There is some polymorphism in the males, but nothing like what one sees in females, which come in about two dozen astonishingly diverse forms. One such form is seen in the mating pair in the second picture. Several of the female forms are Batesian mimics of various other species of unpalatable butterfly found in different parts of its range. Females can have or lack tails, and they can have various combinations of red, blue, and white markings. It was Alfred Russel Wallace who first described this highly complex Batesian mimicry system that is limited to females. [JAC: Do you have an idea why only females but not males are mimetic?]



The next picture is of a well camouflaged glasswing or clearwing butterfly. These small butterflies proved challenging to find, and they would spook easily so they would wind up flitting among the humans, who barely noticed them generally landing in a concealed area. I had repeatedly failed to get a decent picture of one until a kind lady, who knew of my plight, called me over to this one hiding in a corner. This is the Costa Rican clearwing (Greta oto).


The handsome orange, yellow, and black butterfly shown in the next two pictures is the hecale longwing  a.k.a. tiger longwing (Heliconius hecale). It has a number of subspecies that mimic toxic species belonging to the genus Tithorea.



The final two pictures are of one of my favorite butterflies found in butterfly houses, the lovely malachite (Siproeta stelenes). The common name clearly refers to its green markings. The underside of the wings are especially beautiful. This species is native to the neotropics.



That’s my first installment of butterfly house pictures. In the second batch I’d like to show one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken. [JAC: stay tuned!]


  1. Posted July 12, 2016 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Great shots as always. Hard to get enough butterflies, moths, or birds.

  2. rickflick
    Posted July 12, 2016 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    These are a great pleasure to see. Frail looking and richly colored. The variety seems endless.

  3. GBJames
    Posted July 12, 2016 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Nice, Mark!

  4. Ken Phelps
    Posted July 12, 2016 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    The first shot of the Great Mormon is outstanding.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted July 12, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      Thanks! I had to stand on tip-toes to get that one.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 12, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, and I love the foliage it’s resting on.

  5. Posted July 12, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Your work is marvelous, Mark. I just saw my first black swallowtail for the season (SW Ontario)… it was wary and avoided me, so no photo.

  6. cruzrad
    Posted July 12, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Beautiful, thanks Mark!

  7. loren russell
    Posted July 12, 2016 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Not sure if PCC’s question was to see if the class was awake? Since females are the heterogametic sex in Lepidoptera, the polymorphism “could” be at sites on the Z chromosome, eg, classic sex-linked traits.

    Or, perhaps less likely, females being more “choosy” than males, enforcing more uniformity in that sex.

    Or, given enough casts of the evolutionary dice, it just happened this way this time.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 12, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Or, perhaps less likely, females being more “choosy” than males, enforcing more uniformity in that sex.

      Or perhaps the males choose and the females have to grow the “peacock tail”.

      If I were a betting man, I’d bet on your first answer.

      • loren russell
        Posted July 12, 2016 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        If I were right the first time, we might expect to see cases of female-only polymorphism [not necessarily mimetic!] in birds, also with heterogametic females. No instances come to mind, though I’m hardly a birder.

        A fourth situation where female-only Batesian mimicry might be evolved would be in species where the females live much longer than males, this presumably increasing their exposure to predation.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted July 12, 2016 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      I did look around online about the issue, and I found several links on the phenomenon including a posting about the subject in WEIT. The gist of the answer is: We don’t know for sure but could be a # of factors. As you say, mimicry in males may reduce their fitness for being selected by females. That may apply in many cases and it may apply to these butterflies. But there are instances where the mimicry is reversed — where males are mimics of unpalatable species and females are not. What then? A more general answer could be that the two sexes occupy different ecological niches, where one sex experiences selection for mimicry while the other sex does not. I would add that in cases where the mimicry is reversed from what we see in these butterflies could still be because of sexual selection. On some occasions the reproductive costs are reversed between males an females, and females experience sexual selection from choosy males.

  8. Sue Sommers
    Posted July 12, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Really beautiful. I never tire of butterflies.

  9. Posted July 12, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Nice pictures Mark, and I am glad the Raynox has been helpful.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted July 12, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      The Raynox is great. If you have any other useful gadgetry tips, I would sure like to learn about them!

  10. Mark R.
    Posted July 12, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I feel the same way you do when taking pictures in zoos or aquariums – fish in a barrel. But it is enjoyable, and sometimes you can get a great shot.

    Your set-up is obviously working out great. The Costa Rican clearwing is stellar. Transparent animals or animals with transparent features always fascinate me.

    As always, your commentary is erudite and much appreciated. Looking forward to your next batch.

  11. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 12, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous Mark! Can’t wait until the next batch!

  12. Posted July 12, 2016 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous photos!

  13. Andrea Kenner
    Posted July 12, 2016 at 7:08 pm | Permalink


  14. Patrick Q
    Posted July 12, 2016 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    The picture of the glasswing butterfly is one of the most beautiful images of an insect that I’ve ever seen.

  15. Posted July 12, 2016 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful shots! Perfect for arranging in one of those large multiple-photo frames. The glasswing is something I’ve not seen up close before — very special.

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