Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Tropical Oxford

I thought it was time for an exotic interlude amid the daily moths. So if you are mildly startled by my main picture, above, that is the reason.

But surely such glorious creatures do not roam the Oxfordshire countryside? Aah, I wish. But they do roam the excellent, if quite pricey, realm of Blenheim Place. Or at least, the butterfly and ornamental finch house.

I normally have mixed feelings about such places as the price to pay for close examination of their occupants, which is terrific, especially for young people, is too often the sad sight of captive insects fluttering vainly at the windows or muslin screens. But Blenheim seems to have sorted out this problem.

We went with some Estonian friends and their children and I was kept too busy to ask the staff how they managed the butterflies so well. But we're off there again today, this time with some friends from Sri Lanka, so I'll see if I can find out. I'm also hoping that the Sri Lankans may identify some of the butterflies.

I suspect that part of the answer is a carefully-chosen selection of nectaring plants, supplemented by chunks of fruit as shown below.  Isn't the Leaf butterfly in the second picture a wonderful example of mimicry. Small wonder that Alfred Russel Wallace's study of such creatures on his travels in Malaysia and Indonesia led him independently to the same conclusions about natural selection as Charles Darwin.

I was lucky enough to see butterflies like this in their natural habitat when I followed Wallace's footsteps on an expedition to Sulawesi (formerly Celebes) some 30 years ago. It is captivating o see such magnificent creatures soaring on the fringe of the rain forests, or 'mud-puddling' in their hundreds, maybe thousands, as they draw up salt and other minerals from damp sandbanks along the jungle rivers.

The butterfly above - underside in the top picture and topside in the second one - reminded me of those days and was my favourite at Blenheim.  To finish up with, here is one of the Tropical House's finches - presumably a species which doesn't eat butterflies.


petoskystone said...

Stunning creatures!

MartinWainwright said...

Aren't they - no wonder they played such an important part in the gathering of evidence which led to the theory of evolution. Mind you, I also like the quieter beauty of UK moths - maybe because I have to, living here!

all good wishes