By Moralea Milne
Every time I visit Puerto Vallarta there are a number of things I must do, sample some home made ice cream (Oaxacan Kiss is a new favourite), indulge my sweet tooth with a few hot, cinnamon-coated churros and most importantly, visit the Vallarta Botanical Gardens.
There I spend many happy hours engrossed in a search for butterflies. With my much abused, chipped and worn camera in hand, I stealthily attempt to capture their form and beauty within a digital image. Stealthily because they can sense my presence from metres away, too far for a clear image.
To make photographing them more challenging, some species never seem to alight for more than mere seconds, or they show remarkable cunning in evading my lens, just barely peeking around the side of a tree trunk or under a leaf. Still, that is the beauty of any passion – surmounting challenges, executing a flawless task, learning more than you knew before.
With butterflies the thrill is in accomplishing the perfect, evocative photograph; in the identification of the species (often impossible to do); in learning the secrets of their lives, “which plant do they use as a host on which to lay their eggs?”; and on sharing that information with others.
Recently I photographed what I believe is a Gold-spotted Aguna, not a butterfly gifted with extraordinary beauty, but one that has a more subtle resonance when captured in just the right circumstance. Agunas are members of the Skipper family, a vast array of generally small, nondescript butterflies that have hooked antennae.
The Gold-spotted Aguna lays its eggs on legumes, particularly in the Bauhinia family of trees, shrubs and vines, some of which are known as orchid trees. Like many skippers, the young caterpillars are green with a prominent, reddish head, the older caterpillars become more pale as they get closer to their astounding transformation to their butterfly form.
Of course the botanical garden is more than just a butterfly haven, their new orchid conservatory will eventually house all the myriad species of orchids that can be found in Mexico, along with others that provide displays of unusual colours, shapes or are otherwise unique and have captured the interest of collectors.
To create an appreciation of Mexico’s vast species richness, the Gardens offer school tours to explore the variety of native plants, showcasing ones that have uses beyond butterfly habitat…such as edible fruiting trees and vanilla orchids.
I highly recommend a visit if you are in town for just a few short days or consider purchasing an annual pass if you are fortunate enough to reside here.