This is my 5th year photographing the butterflies at the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit for Chicago Botanic Garden. I dearly love this early morning time with the butterflies - a chance to capture their beauty and learn about these wonderful creatures, then share my images with the Garden. This year the exhibit has been moved to its permanent location at the Regenstein Learning Campus and it is better than ever. After being away for a couple of weeks I came back to a lush garden full of beautiful flowers and so many butterflies, as well as an incredible display of Atlas moths. When I was there on Wednesday, there were 6 Atlas moths in the serviceberry tree near the pupae emergence room. Since then, 4 more have emerged and been released, bringing the total to 10!
Female Atlas Moth
Atlas moths belong to the Saturniidae family and are native to the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia. They are the largest moth in the world in terms of wing surface and their wing span can reach 10-12 inches. There are varying theories as to why the moth is called the Atlas moth - perhaps being named after the titan of Greek mythology, or because of their atlas or map-like wing patterns, or perhaps because in Cantonese the name translates into "snake's head moth," referring to the patterning of the curved forewing tip that resembles a snake's head with eye spot.
Mating Female and Male Atlas Moths - the male is the smaller moth on top
When the moths emerge from the cocoon they have no mouth parts and do not eat, relying only on their fat stores from the caterpillar stage. Their sole purpose once they emerge is to reproduce. They live only 1 - 2 weeks. The female secretes a pheromone to attract her mate. The male Atlas uses his long feathery antennae, which are much larger than the female antennae, to detect the pheromones and find the female. Once the eggs are laid, the moth dies. The caterpillars emerge 10-14 days later and the cycle of life begins again - egg, caterpillar, pupa and moth.
Side View of a Female Atlas
Close up of the female Atlas from a previous year - note the transparent triangular windows on the wings.
If you haven't been to Butterflies and Blooms yet this year, I highly recommend getting there soon to see these fascinating creatures before they are gone, along with lots of other butterflies and beautiful flowers.