Florida Museum of Natural History Opens Symbiosis : Butterflies, Moths and Plants

Explore the delicate relationship between butterflies, moths and plants at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s newest exhibit, “Symbiosis: Butterflies, Moths and Plants” open now through March 13, 2011.

The free exhibit features watercolor paintings by Mindy Lighthipe, who hopes her art will express the importance of both host and nectar plants to butterflies and moths at various stages of their life cycles.

The exhibit features new paintings, as well as some included in a collection that won a Silver Grenfell award at the 2009 London Orchid Show at the Royal Horticulture Society. “Host plants are really and truly the key to survival of the species,” said Lighthipe, who has been creating botanical illustrations for 20 years.

While adult butterflies and moths can feed on a variety of nectar-producing plants, each species of caterpillar requires specific plants for its diet and adult butterflies will only lay eggs on particular plants.

“A butterfly garden can have all of the nectar plants in the world, but if you don’t have host plants, you won’t have butterflies,” said Lighthipe, who has collected insects since she was 5 years old.

Butterfly gardens have become popular in recent years, and Lighthipe said many butterfly gardeners focus on planting nectar plants for butterflies to feed on but don’t think about the need for host plants.

“Everyone focuses on how beautiful butterflies are and often overlook caterpillars,” she said.

Lighthipe also is a children’s book author. She wrote and illustrated “Mother Monarch,” which focuses on the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and the importance of its host plant, milkweed.

Lighthipe, who teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, will lead a ButterflyFest workshop from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 19 and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 20 and 21, teaching participants to accurately illustrate butterflies and moths.

The Florida Museum will host the fifth annual ButterflyFest from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 23-24. Throughout the weekend, all ages can participate in fun and educational activities, including live butterfly releases, take-away crafts for children, informative workshops, and presentations on conservation and attracting butterflies and other pollinators. Participants also may shop for butterfly-friendly plants or unique butterfly and garden gifts or take part in a special field trip or tour.

ButterflyFest admission and parking are free. Regular ticket prices apply to the Butterfly Rainforest exhibit, and special ButterflyFest tours and workshops are fee-based. For more festival information or to register for tours and workshops, visit www.flmnh.ufl.edu./butterflyfest or call 352-273-2064.

The Florida Museum of Natural History is Florida’s state natural history museum, dedicated to understanding, preserving and interpreting biological diversity and cultural heritage. It is located near the intersection of Southwest 34th Street and Hull Road in the University of Florida Cultural Plaza in Gainesville. Hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Butterfly Rainforest admission is $10.50 for adults ($9 Fla. residents) and $6 for ages 3-17. Prices are subject to change. For more information, including directions and parking, visit www.flmnh.ufl.edu or call 352-846-2000.

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