Butterflies in Disguise

I may have mentioned my addiction to collecting things. (See, Why My Living Room Looks Like a Cabinet of Curiosities.)  One of the coolest things about my camera, besides providing me with hours of fun, is that it enables me to collect things that are alive (without, you know, making them not alive). So I’ve amassed a fairly decent butterfly collection without ever having to use a killing jar.

So at this point, you can just skip down to the photos, or if you happen to have any interest in butterfly evolution, you can read on:

I chose these particular photos to show off because they demonstrate one of my favorite tricks of nature: mimicry. Take the three types of black swallowtail in the pictures:

Pipevine Swallowtail

The Pipevine Swallowtail is poisonous to birds because it feeds on the toxic pipevine as a caterpillar.


Black Swallowtails

Several Tigers and a Spicebush Swallowtail

The Spicebush and the Eastern Black Swallowtails have evolved to look like the Pipevine to take advantage of its advantage. It’s called Batesian mimicry. The mimics are like sheep in wolf’s clothing and gain the advantage of looking like the wolf.

I also included another pair that show Mullerian mimicry: the Monarch and the Viceroy. In this case, both butterflies are the wolf.


The caterpillar of the monarch butterfly feeds on milkweed which is toxic and unpalatable to birds. It makes them sick but doesn’t kill them. The birds remember and don’t try to eat the next monarch they see.



The Viceroy looks very similar to the Monarch and for years, it was thought that it was another example of Batesian mimcry. But studies have suggested that the Viceroy is also unpalatable to birds. Both butterflies have similar defense mechanisms so they both gain an advantage from the mimicry. (The more butterflies of similar pattern that all taste bad or induce sickness there are, the more quickly birds learn not to eat them.) Cool, Huh?

So I have a bonus question if anyone is interested. There are at least two more butterflies in the eastern United States that mimic the Pipevine Swallowtail. Anybody know what they are?


Why My Living Room Looks Like a Cabinet of Curiosities

I ascribe to the cabinet of curiosities school of interior design. Almost everything on display in my living room is something I found on a beach, in the woods, on a river bank, chiseled out of a limestone cliff, or dug out of the dump piles of an abandoned mine.

I am by nature, a collector and a natural history buff. I started with seashells when I was a kid on all those summer trips to my grandparents’ house in Florida. As an adult, I lived in and around Austin for 10 years on the edge of the Texas hill country. I went hiking almost every weekend and quickly discovered that Austin sits right on top hundreds of feet of Cretaceous limestone deposited by an ancient sea, and you can find marine fossils at almost every road cut or creek bed in the area. So I collected 100 million year old sea urchins and oysters and ammonites. Later, when my family and I lived in Asheville, NC, on the bones of old mountains chock full of gems and interesting minerals, I began hiking to old mines sites and collecting kyanite and garnet and apatite and beryl. Sometimes, in my travels in the woods, I came across antlers or turtle shells or bird’s nests and I brought those home, too.

Three years ago, we moved to our current home, and I quickly discovered that the rocks of this area contain neither fossils nor particularly interesting rocks. And we’re 3 hours from the ocean, so shells and sharks’ teeth are only an option once or twice a year. So I began collecting bugs and birds by camera. Photos took up so much less room. But still, in the winter particularly, I need something to satisfy my collecting urges so I fall back on a more urban addiction – thrift stores. Here, I comb through the detritus of the culture that spawned me, and drag home whatever strikes my fancy. (If you want to know how it began, see my post, Confession of a Thrift Store Junkie.) And once a week, I post one of my finds, here.

My Thrift Pick of the Week is kind of a double whammy – a product of disposable American pop culture and an homage to one of my oldest collecting habits – a fake fossil of a triceratops skull I got for $3.00 at my favorite second-hand establishment (an interesting collection of cultural flotsam that goes by the name of Everything But Granny’s Panties).

Vintage Science Fiction Cover Art

One summer day when I was about twelve, I complained to a friend that I couldn’t find anything interesting to read. My friend gave a little laugh and said, Come with me. Leading me to her garage, she flicked on the light, waited a moment for dramatic effect, and said, Pick.

I was in awe. One whole wall of the garage was covered by homemade bookshelves and those shelves were stuffed to overflowing with, what I would soon discover, were science fiction paperbacks.

They’re my dad’s, my friend said. He’s kind of a sci fi junkie. You can borrow anything you want.

I stepped forward and picked one at random. Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan. The cover art convinced me to take it home. And so began an addiction to science fiction that would last thirty years (and counting).

So a few years ago, when I was in the depths of my thrift store addiction, I began buying old sci-fi paperbacks. It gave me something new to hunt for, and I really liked the cover art, especially from the 40s, 50s and 60s. (If you read my last post you’ll know I have a fascination with yesterday’s vision of tomorrow.) But it was hard to display the covers if the books just sat on a bookshelf. So I decided to take on another craft project. I started collecting the covers, some cheesy ones and some of the classics that I had read as a kid, with the thought that I would one day try to decoupage them on the top of an old trunk.

Since I am not a particularly successful crafter and a great procrastinator, the covers went into a  manila envelope and have been occupying the bottom drawer of my desk for a few years now. But one day, I swear, I’m going to finish this project. In the meantime, they’re this week’s Thrift Pick of the Week.

Confession of a Thrift Store Junkie

I’m not sure when I got hooked. It might have been the day I found a 3 foot plastic Millennium Falcon for almost nothing. (Our boys were huge Star Wars fans and that thing retailed for more than $100.) Or maybe it was when I came across an old tin globe. It was painted in bright colors and had the signs of the Zodiac on the base. I had absolutely no use for it. So I bought it. I couldn’t help myself. Suddenly, every time I saw an old globe in a thrift store, I had to buy that, too. Soon I realized I was regularly trolling every second-hand store in town in search of globes or other cool old junk.

When I started, I swear, I was just trying to save money. We had a pretty tight budget (imagine if the lower middle class had a basement), and I could get cheap clothes, books, and furniture. This was years ago, before our youngest was in school, and a trip to the thrift store became entertainment, especially on those winter days when it was too cold or snowy to go outside for long. It gave us a way to get out of the house without spending a lot of money. (We could only go to the library so often.) There was a Goodwill nearby that always had a huge bin of little 50 cent toys next to the bookshelves. We usually got out of there with reading material for me and a double fistful of little toys for the little guy, and I rarely spent more than $3 or$4.

Then the globe happened. Suddenly, thrift shopping was less a budgeting strategy or winter entertainment and more a strange addiction. The youngest got older and went off to kindergarten, and I kept thrift shopping. My habit escalated and I added flea markets and garage sales. I bought buckets of toys for the boys, cookware and books for my partner, doodads for the house – all kinds of things we really didn’t need but they were all such a bargain!

And I began collecting “vintage” things: typewriters, old suitcases, science fiction novels from the 40s and 50s with the cool freaky cover art. And more globes. At one point, I had accumulated 15, I think. Most of them had to live in the basement because at the time, there were five of us living in a house with less than 1200 square feet. My partner and oldest son staged an intervention.

That was years ago, and I’m much better now. These days I try (usually successfully) to limit myself to one store once a week, and sometimes I don’t buy anything at all. But sometimes I find something really cool. So once a week, I’m going to post my “Thrift Pick of the Week” just for you other thrifters and treasure-hunters out there. This week, my globes. Next week, look for science salvage.

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