Wednesday, January 07, 2009 – Permalink –
An Obsession with Butterflies
"Architecture is a plant's first defense. Once a caterpillar begins to eat, compounds in its saliva can be recognized by the leaf as a form of attack. Whang, whang, whang. The entire plant goes on alert. A hormonal burst starts a second defense system, a counter attack that may include rushing newly produced toxins to the damaged leaf, as well as compounds that slow a caterpillar's ability to digest the plant as food."
From the beastly horned caterpillar, whose blood helps it count time, to the peacock butterfly, with wings that hiss like a snake, Russell traces the butterflies through their life cycles, exploring the creatures' own obsessions with eating, mating, and migrating. In this way, she reveals the logic behind our endless fascination with butterflies as well as the driving passion of such legendary collectors as the tragic Eleanor Glanville, whose children declared her mad because of her compulsive butterfly collecting, and the brilliant Henry Walter Bates, whose collections from the Amazon in 1858 helped develop his theory of mimicry in nature. Russell also takes us inside some of the world's most prestigious natural history museums, where scientists painstakingly catalogue and categorize new species of Lepidoptera, hoping to shed light on insect genetics and evolution.
<Doug Klippert@ 3:35 AM
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