Photo Essay: The Butterflies of Chiang Mai / by Heather

In Chiang Mai, Thailand, there are a seemingly infinite number of  attractions whose main purpose appears to be posing visitors in front of various animals, ethnic minorities, and temples so their pictures can be put on colourful laminated flyers and stuck inside tuk-tuks and taxis to lure other tourists in. It's true that some are tourist traps, attracting huge buses that come in tides and shuffle their occupants through on a tight schedule. But we were very pleasantly surprised when we decided to forgo the ever-popular and ethically dubious Tiger Kingdom (where your quintessential tourist-laying-on-a-big-tiger-in-chains photo comes from) and check out the Orchid Farm and  the even less trendy Insect Zoo instead.

I can't deny that you do have to be a fan of flowers and bugs, respectively, to enjoy these attractions, but for my friend Asia and myself, that was no problem (okay, she's more of the flower girl, and I'm the bug nut). We wandered wide-eyed for at least an hour through rows and rows of incredible, diverse orchids the size of our hands at the Orchid Farm before continuing on to the highly-anticipated (by me) Insect Zoo.

Besides an interesting and educational bug museum with walls of dead multi-legged horrors pinned into frames, the zoo also hosts a menagerie of live insects where, if you're me, you'll be jumping up and down and clapping at the chance to hold a hissing cockroach and an Emperor Scorpion. Asia was less excited.

   

But the Insect Zoo isn't all creepy-crawlies and in fact has a large  butterfly enclosure that lets you get up close and personal with some of Nature's more (unfairly?) adored bugs. Being a budding macro photography enthusiast, I was fascinated by one part of the enclosure in particular, the chrysalis display.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis

 

Common Crow butterfly chrysalis

 

Early stage of a monarch butterfly chrysalis

 

But I was surprised, after looking closely at all the different chrysalises and their slowly escaping occupants, that a lot of the butterflies didn't survive their fragile re-awakening into the world. Beautiful, motionless little creatures frozen in time and half-emerged, their bodies still clinging on to their tiny wombs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a sad scene, but what really caught my eye was a small table set away from the chrysalis display. It had a tray full of empty and discarded chrysalis shells. Unfortunately, the ground around the table was littered with the bodies of butterflies who hadn't made it, their brittle wings crumbled apart like autumn leaves. However, there was one butterfly left. It had just emerged and was slowly stumbling its way across the tray and onto the table. It hesitantly crawled over the side and clung there, blazing defiantly like a tiny flame.

 

 

 

 

 

I don't know if it survived.