By Carl Kuntze
3 Apr 2008
Perched on a hill at Batu Ferrengi (Foreigner's Rock), about a mile and a half from
one of Malaysia's finest white sand beaches, is The Penang Butterfly Farm, a vibrant 0.8
acre greenhouse of manmade streams cascading over landscaped boulders, Lotus ponds,
grottoes, vines, wooden bridges, rock tunnels, and, of course, floral shrubs with blossoms
producing nectar to nourish the delicate creatures. The fluttering butterflies come in various
sizes, representing 50 species collected from forests all over the world. At times, they pro-
create to 3,000, ranging from the tiny Rose Butterfly to the majestic Monarch. Here, in what
is described as the largest enclosed aphid habitat in the region, we can appreciate its anim-
ation and vibrant colors, far more diverting and humane than viewing dead specimens pin-
ned to boards. Exquisite visions to capture on film.
Armed with a Contax 139Q with a Carl Zeiss 60 mm. Macro-Planar lens, and a TTL
30 flash unit, I prepared for my "safari". The environement approximates that of shaded
portions of a tropical rain forest, mitigating the sometimes oppressive heat from the equato-
rial sun. But even under climate controlled conditions, body temperature induces perspi-
ration to stream in copious amounts that interfere with performance. For fragile, or not, they
are swift, flickering in and out of focus with coruscating alacrity. Tripods are worthless in this
situation. Clothing saturated, sweat dripping down from my face and arms, necessitated
frequent pauses to mop up the moisture with a handkerchief. A monopod was an effective
alternative to steady my camera. I instinctively tripped the shutter from time to time, uncer-
tain if I captured an acceptable shot. I needed a single picture for a Latex Paint Manufacturer
in The Philippines. At the end of four hours, I'd only exposed two 36 exposure rolls. I left,
unsure I had what I needed. The project was a trial, and a lesson in discipline.
When I got back to Manila, I examined results from the lab, and discovered some
decent slides although I did not harvest as wide a variety as I had hoped I would. Some
specimens seemed narcissistic enough to keep returning to my position as if in provocation.
One particular favorite was A Malayan Tapestry (Cethosa Hysea-Nymphalidae), which
persistently returned to "pose" for me. The flash proved reliable, but recycling time took
longer than normal. I was also vexed by synchro-sunlight problems. All shots were taken
at f.5.6 with Kodachrome KR 64 Daylight. I depended entirely on the automation of my
equipment, not having time to bracket.
A few years ago, The Smithsonian Institute inaugurated a butterfly rookery adjacent
to The Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Unlike those in Penang, Malaysia,
Davao, Philippines, and Orlando, Florida, the garden is not enclosed. They are free to flee
their persistent gawkers. Glass pens, while protecting them, similarly abbreviates their exis-
tence. Perhaps, future butterfly gardens shall be open and not prisons for beauty.
Butterflies are trusting creatures and swarm to plant life, be they floral or vegetable,
cultivated or wild. They do not discriminate between crab grass, viper's bugloss, or dande-
lions, geranium, golden rod, or pepper bush. From cabbage to broccolli. Each have their
distinct nectar. Butterflies particularly thrive in warm climates. In regions with four seasons,
they migrate as fall approaches. In Cache Valley, where I live, there are 200 species. They
congregate in tilled gardens as well as wild meadows, flitting from blossom to blossom, sip-
ping their sweet dew while pollinating them, thus repaying nature for their own brief lives.
They grace our own with the pulchritude of their presence, making us savor the advent of
spring even more. There are butterfly gardens all over the world now, some in regions
where the climate is more forgiving. Attempting to capture their images would be a rewar-
ding experience, and a lesson in patience.