In the African savannas among lions and elephants, UF researchers studied a smaller, more familiar subject — butterflies.
Two UF biology graduate students led by professor Akito Kawahara, associate curator of lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History, spent two weeks in March and April 2017 in Mozambique, an East African country. They studied the relationships among butterflies, bats and moths while filming an episode for PBS’ “Nature” series. Their episode, “Sex, Lies and Butterflies,” premiered Wednesday night on PBS.
The award-winning PBS series, “Nature,” focuses on different ecosystems and animals around the world, giving viewers an in-depth view of what they cannot see on their own, according to PBS.
Peter Houlihan, a UF biology doctoral student, said he hopes the documentary will help people reconnect with the natural world.
“I hope people watch it and are inspired to care and think about nature a bit more in a time when I don’t feel that people have as much as a connection to the outdoors or the environment as they used to,” Houlihan said.
For Houlihan, a memorable part of filming was doing research in the middle of an African savanna, where lions would often lurk nearby. They would leap off the backs of trucks to catch rare butterflies, and when a lion approached them, their park ranger would have to yell at them to jump back on and quickly drive away.
“A lot of the researchers just aren’t trained to be looking for lions,” Houlihan said. “I think it was a nightmare for (the ranger), but I found it hilarious.”
Harlan Gough, a fourth-year UF biology doctoral student, said the documentary began with the film crew’s interest in recording bats at night. The 28-year-old used his background in bats to study their relationship with moths and then the moth’s relationship to rare African butterflies.
“It was a great opportunity to catch these species of butterflies that will be able to be included in the overall sequencing project,” Gough said. “They’re just another moth.”