In Awe of the Blue Morpho

Since I retired I started doing a little bit of volunteer work at Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa. I am a butterfly wing docent, which basically means I let people into and out of the butterfly wing, and prevent butterflies from escaping. It’s a fun thing to do. It gets me out of the house, and I interact with a lot of people, some of whom are old friends and some who I have just met. If I volunteer for a fairly quite time (in terms of the human visitors), sometimes I will be in the wing with only the butterflies for company. That is a good thing because I love taking photos of butterflies.

I have taken lots of photos of many different species. However, I have found one species to be particularly awesome and would like to talk about it here.

This is the common blue morpho, Morpho peleides. It is native to forests of Central and South America. It is quite large–larger than any of the butterflies native to Iowa. The wing span is listed as five to eight inches. If you visit the butterfly wing on a sunny day you will see them flying along the pathway. What you see is usually just flashes of blue–it is easy to lose track of them when they land.

The upper side of the wings are bright blue, and the shade of blue changes with the angle of the wings to the sun, so in flight they seem to flash.

When they land they close their wings almost immediately and seem to be a completely different butterfly.

I did a post a few years back about how butterflies hear with a small structure called the Vogel’s organ. This is a tympanic membrane–an “ear” located in the wings of the butterflies. One of the papers cited involved research with the blue morpho, and at the time I thought I might like to take some photos of this butterfly to locate the organ. I did not have access to the butterfly at the time, but I do now thanks to my volunteer position. This is what it looks like:

I added the red line to point it out. This organ is quite large and fairly easy to find on the blue morpho.

Something I have noticed about blue morphos that seems pretty amazing is their ability to land on and stick to clean glass surfaces. Of course, flies can do this, but you normally don’t think about butterflies doing it. This seems to be a fairly common behavior of blue morphos in the butterfly wing. I have seen a few other butterflies stick to the glass, but not for the length of time that the morphos do. When you think about an insect as big as a deck of cards sticking to a smooth glass surface it is pretty amazing.

Maybe they have to stick to leaves with waxy coatings in the forest. They can stick to the glass with no apparent effort for five or ten minutes (and probably more). It seems like an amazing ability.

I took some photos of the feet, and this was the best I got so far. Maybe I will try to take a photo from the other side of the glass to see if there is some special structure.

This butterfly is pretty special and I feel like I am just scratching the surface on it.

About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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2 Responses to In Awe of the Blue Morpho

  1. What an intriguing and beautiful butterfly! Your photos are really great – do you have a macro lens? And…how do you get the butterflies to stay still long enough for the closeups? 🙂

    • I use a 105 mm Nikon macro lens. The butterflies will stay still for photos as long as I approach them very slowly–sudden movements startle them. Butterflies in a captive setting are less easily spooked than wild ones.

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