Butterfly 'Oddities' Things I found out after I started shooting them

Like many of my photo adventures, this too started as a make-work project - I'd exhausted the local supply of cut flowers and plants so I was desperate for 'something' to shoot. I called the closest butterfly conservatory to ask if I could have some of their specimens to shoot after they die and they said "Yes and for free". A few days later, after travelling over 4 hours and nearly 350 Km, I was back home with my first batch of 18 butterflies. I knew that there were a large number of butterflies in the world but I'd only ever seen them in collections and a few local varieties. Unpacking them, I was amazed by the different colours, wing patterns and sizes - some even had their wings flat so I could easily shoot the top and bottom surfaces. They filled the frame, so initially a macro wasn't needed, and after the first shot I did my usual 100% zoom-in, to check for sharpness, and that's when the discoveries began to happen. I started with just wanting to take 'nice' photos that were interesting but it turned out to be so much more.

Colours - black, white and everything in between

At first I assumed that their colouration allowed them to blend in with their habitat but unless it's a lava bed, snow or some other strange place - it just can't be.

Pink Rose Swallowtail

Paper Kite or Rice Paper

Orange Emigrant

Great Yellow Mormon

Julia Longwing

Tailed Jay

Wing surface difference

Monarch - top and bottom

Monarchs are my main local butterfly with similar patterns and colours on the two wing surfaces so I was very pleasantly surprised to see these.

Blue Clipper - Top

Blue Clipper - Bottom

Malay Lacewing - Top

Malay Lacewing - Bottom

Giant Owl - Top

Giant Owl - Bottom

Blue Morpho - Top

Blue Morpho - Bottom

Wing scales

There seems to be at least two different types - some come out quite sharp while the edges of others appear 'fuzzy'. I discovered that's part of the defense mechanism so if it's caught in a web, scales are pulled off easily so it can escape.

Banded Peacock - Top

Giant Owl - Bottom

Blue Morpho - Bottom (1.5X life size)

Blue Morpho - Bottom (3X life size)

Blue Morpho - Top (2X life size)

Blue Morpho - Top (3X life size)

Blue Morpho - Top (4X life size)

'Fur' on wing and body

It's a specialized form of scale structure and when it's around the body it aids with insulation. It also makes for some very interesting photos.

Blue Clipper - Top

Belus Batus - Top

White Peacock - Top

Malay Lacewing

Paper Kite or Rice Paper


I was surprised when I learned that they actually breathe through holes in the sides of their abdomen, called spiracles, and most insects have them.

Paper Kite or Rice Paper

Do they really have 'horns'?

In some of my early explorations I saw what looked like 'horns' at the top of the head and I thought 'no way' and did some more research. They turned out to just be 'palps' which are part of their mouth structure.

Brown Clipper

Malay Lacewing

What - they have ears?

During an email exchange with a technician at the butterfly conservatory, she told me that the Blue Morpho actually has ears that are fairly easy to find at the base of the forewing.

The white circle shows the approximate area in the next photo that was taken.

The ear looks like a fried egg in the middle of the next photo and was taken at 4X life size.

Other species also have ears, like the Grey Cracker, but I broke the one that I had before I got around to looking for it so I'm hoping for another example or any other species with them.

A low angle LED flashlight shows new things

Accidently one day, I pointed it at the table with the butterflies on it and was really amazed when one of them changed colour - I then tried shining it on each of them but only a few more did the same. I haven't found an explanation as to why it happens but again it makes for interesting photos.

Autumn Leaf top in daylight

In LED light

Even closer

Belus Batus in daylight

In LED light

Even closer

Giant Owl in daylight

In LED light

Even closer

Top of Blue Morpho wing lit from below - LED light

Top of Blue Morpho wing lit from above - LED light


In the last eight months, I've been given 70 examples of 36 different species and taken 250 photos so the learning and shooting quests continue. Commercial availability limits what I'll get but so far, each of my five trips has resulted in at least a few 'new' ones. If you find yourself in a similar situation, call your local conservatory and ask if they can help so you too can explore their beauty and find your own 'oddities'.

N.B. In exchange for an ongoing supply of butterflies, I give them royalty free, full size digital copies of everything that I shoot to use as they want - I think it's good for both of us as I'd never be able to get them myself.

Camera equipment

  • Canon T3i - APS-C sensor - 18 MP
  • Canon 100 mm f2.8 macro lens
  • Canon 65 mm f2.8 MP-E macro lens (1X to 5X life size)
  • Cognisys StackShot (stepper motor driven, focus-stacking rail)
Created By
Roy Beauvais

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