Saturday, August 25, 2012

Junonia Coenia

The Common Buckeye has a moth-like coloration, but it is emphatically a butterfly. It belongs to the same family as the Monarch and the Red Admiral, the Nymphalidae. The German entomologist Jacob Hübner (1761-1826) created, if that’s the word for it, the Junonia genus; it has somewhere between 30-35 species. This naming took place in 1819, and the imprecise number of species has a meaning of its own. Disputes surround the classification of some species within the group; some people put  them under Juno’s care, others under one on another closely related genus. Now 1819 is not that long ago; the situation is still fluid, as it were. And for all we know, the Lepidoptera collectively might be spawning new species yet without notifying human lepidopterists as common courtesy, one supposes, would require.

I became hooked on butterflies when writing the Ghulf Genes novels in which I had one character, who was always very lucky, discover a new species in Spain as a child—which device necessitated an entrance to the subject. I was at first intrigued and then entirely bowled over by the vast complexity. Which is both instructive and humbling. One discovers not only deep layers in nature but also unknown communities of humans laboring away—of which Jacob Hübner is one.

One aspect of that community is now rising forcefully in my awareness. Here are scientists who inherited naming conventions from the days when Latin was the English of the world; they are still at it, creating names, but absentmindedly, as it were, never bothering to record, anywhere, what those words mean in the global language of today. Junonia? The goddess Juno, no doubt, lurks between the leaves there. Coenia? I spent far too much time trying to run it down and failed. But it might have something to do with “muddy”; the closest Latin I could find was coenosus, meaning muddy or turgid or boggy. The coloration of the creature? Well, perhaps.

This post is occasioned by a visit from a Buckeye (in England also called Commodore or Pansy) yesterday. It was a little frustrating trying to get a good photo; I show two that weren’t a disaster. Then, to do some honor to this butterfly’s real patterns, I show a more happy picture I managed to take last year about this time.

The Buckeyes’ favorite food is the snapdragon; they feed on its nectar and their caterpillars eat the leaves. I took the photo I show from a site called Whole Blossoms (link). By all means purchase some at the site, and the Buckeyes will come—although, in our case, they visit to enjoy our mint and basil.

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