Project 'took on wings of its own'
by Jennifer Cohron
Dec 19, 2010 | 1626 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sara Bright didn't plan to dedicate 15 years of her life to photographing butterflies.

It all started with a Falcate Orangetip and a field trip with UAB instructor Paulette Haywood Ogard.

Bright, a professional photographer, had contacted Ogard about collaborating on a book about native plants.

When the two stopped to watch the butterfly lay eggs on their first outing, they decided to change the focus of the book.

"We realized at that point the deep interconnection between plants and butterflies, and we just followed it. The project took on wings of its own," Bright said.

The finished product, "Butterflies of Alabama: Glimpses into Their Lives," was released in September by The University of Alabama Press.

It is an illustrated guide to the 84 known butterfly species that are found in the state.

Bright's photographs and Ogard's text give readers a glimpse into the tiny creatures' complete life cycle from egg to caterpillar, pupa and adult.

Bright, whose work has been featured in several outdoor magazines, said she has always been drawn to nature photography.

Her father, Emory Cunningham, grew up in Kansas and loved to hunt and fish. Bright spent many summers and Christmas vacations roaming the woods near her father's home place in Walker County.

Cunningham later moved to Birmingham and founded Southern Living. However, he retained his love of nature and passed it along to all of his children.

While working on "Butterflies of Alabama," Bright said she became fascinated by all stages of a butterfly's life.

She took a special interest in the techniques butterflies have developed to escape predators.

Their honed hiding abilities also made the job of Bright and Ogard difficult at times.

The pair had to either find or raise caterpillars for all 84 species in order to get photos of a complete life cycle.

"Even if you find the host plant, are there at the right time of year and can come up with the butterfly, you still don't have the caterpillar," Bright said.

Although butterflies go through just four stages and usually live for only days, a dozen pictures were sometimes required to accurately document a single species.

Bright said the goal of the book is to show that each butterfly has an individual life story.

For example, Harvester caterpillars eat aphids, which makes them a rare carnivore in the world of butterflies.

Others store poisonous molecules from plants in their bodies to deter predators.

Some butterflies have a small army of ants attending to their needs because as caterpillars they are able to release a small amount of nectar.

In Alabama, the wingspan for butterflies varies from one to six inches.

Bright said 15 years hasn't been long enough to learn all there is to know about butterflies.

"Even after all this time, I've got more questions than answers. There's still so many things I want to discover," Bright said.