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Our Longwings are Doing Vine, Thank You

Psiguria vine with male flowers

Psiguria vine with male flowers

Now that the dark winter months are coming to an end, the Psiguria in our Butterfly Garden are starting to grow out again. Psiguria (sometimes called the pygmy melon) is a tropical vineĀ  which happens to be the only flowering vine in the garden and is of special importance to some of the butterflies in the exhibit. Although butterflies can survive on nectar, they do not necessarily thrive on it. The problem is that nectar is predominantly sugar and water. While this allows butterflies to keep their energy levels up for flying around, it will cause them to slowly die of nutritional starvation.

A longwing butterfly feeding on pollen. Note the white pollen grains on the proboscis.

A longwing butterfly feeding on pollen. Note the white pollen grains on the proboscis.

 

One group of butterflies has adapted to feed on pollen as a way to increase the nutrition in their diet. With pollen, their maximum lifespan can range between 4-6 months. Without pollen, their maximum lifespan drops to a few weeks. Among these pollen feeders are butterflies that specialize almost entirely in feeding on Psiguria pollen, such as the Blue and White Longwing, (Heliconius cydno).

Heliconius cydno, a longwing butterfly that feeds specifically on Psiguria pollen.

Heliconius cydno, a longwing butterfly that feeds specifically on Psiguria pollen.

 

 

 

Our exhibit displays several species of longwings, the majority of which are pollen feeders and a few of which feed specifically on Psiguria pollen. While many of this vine’s close relatives provide us with fruits (such as cucumber, melons, or squash) or other useful items (such as gourds and luffa sponges), Psiguria itself has no economic value whatsoever. This makes it more difficult to find at plant nurseries or greenhouses. So how do we get the number of vines we need to support our butterflies? Tune in next week to find out!

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