Monday, September 28, 2009

The Big Clean - Finale

On Saturday September 26, Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House was reopened to the public! After two weeks of closure, visitors will find a brighter, cleaner and more sparkly habitat for our butterflies.

Thanks to the heroic efforts of Horticulturists Jeff Leonard and Maida Ingalls, Discovery Corp Intern Ileana and many other staff members. Many hours of plant pruning, vacuuming, scrubbing and washing the garden surfaces are evident. All of our 1000 watt full spectrum light-bulbs were replaced to give the garden a natural daylight feel throughout the year.

The biggest job, of course, was replacing the netting that encloses the garden. The netting is essential as it is the secondary containment structure in the event of a breach in the glass windows. Life Science Manager, Sarah Moore explains the scope of the project like this:
“Imagine making a bed to hospital standards. Only the bed is 4000 square feet of surface area; and vertical instead of horizontal; and 15 feet high; with plants in it; then throw in some thumbtacks here and there to snag on the blankets. Getting nets to hang perpendicular and straight around all the obstacles is a fussy laborious process. It looks great now that it’s done!”

Frequent guests should notice a slightly different look in the Tropical Butterfly House. First of all, the new netting is orange! But as Sarah points out, “The new netting and lights give the garden a crispness. Pruning - in some cases removal - of a lot of plant material gives other plants a chance to show off a little. You know how products sometimes advertise ‘new and improved, same original formula’ or a similar oxymoron? The butterfly house cleanup somehow manages to actually embody that dynamic!”

Now is a great time to visit the Tropical Butterfly House! In addition to the fresh environment, the emerging window is full and daily releases will soon bring the butterfly population back up to it standard numbers. Also, keep in mind that with fewer school groups visiting this time of year, the butterfly house is a perfect place for a relaxing visit.
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Friday, September 25, 2009

Fresh Sheet - September 25, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. In preparation for the reopening of our freshly cleaned Tropical Butterfly House, the emerging window will contain nearly one thousand pupae! Visit Pacific Science Center's Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.


40 - Anartia amathea (Scarlet Peacock)
40 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
80 - Biblis hyperia (Red Rim)
50 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
10 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
15 - Catonephele orites (Orange-banded shoemaker)
10 - Colobura dirce (Mosaic butterfly)
30 - Dryas julia (Julia Longwing)
10 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
10 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
10 - Heraclides thoas (Giant Swallowtail)


30 - Cethosia biblis (Red Lacewing)
17 - Danaus chrysippus (Plain Tiger)
20 - Doleschalia bisaltide (Autumn Leaf)
10 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
80 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly)
78 - Idea Leuconoe (Paper Kite)
14 - Pachliopta kotzeboea (Pink Rose)
50 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
50 - Papilio palinurus (Banded Peacock)
14 - Papilio polytes (Polite swallowtail)
50 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)
24 - Parthenus sylvia (Blue Clipper)

London Pupae Supply – Los Angeles

05 - Charaxes brutus (White-barred Charaxes)
05 - Charaxes candiope (Green-veined Charaxes)
10 - Charaxes cithaeron (Blues-spotted Charexes)
05 - Charaxes etesipe
05 - Charaxes lasti (Silver Striped Charaxes)
04 - Charaxes pollux (Black-bordered Charaxes)
10 - Charaxes protoclea (Flame-bordered Charexes)
05 - Charaxes varanes (Pearl Charexes)
10 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
03 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly)
40 - Papilio dardanus (Mocker Swallowtail)
30 - Papilio helenus (Red Helen)
10 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio memnon (Great Mormon)
10 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)
20 - Parthenos sylvia (Blue Clipper)
06 - Tirumala limniace

Carolina Biological

35 - Antheraea polyphemus Polyphemus moth

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Big Clean - Puget Sound Saltwater Tide Pool

This week was the perfect time to carry out our annual cleaning of the Puget Sound Saltwater Tide Pool. Normally this operation is performed during Pacific Science Center’s Bubble Festival, which is a good time to close the tidepool to the public because of the possibility of soap contamination. However, this year the Life Sciences department took advantage of the two week closure so as not to inconvenience the public with this rather messy procedure.

In preparation for the “full clean,” supplies are collected: scrub brushes, sponges, shovels, scoopers, rakes, trash bags, empty five-gallon buckets, new sand, and lots of elbow grease. Meanwhile, fresh salt water is mixed and circulated in the mixing vat. During the cleaning process, we replace about two-thirds of the water, leaving the remainder to stabilize healthy bacterial growth.

As soon as the pool starts draining, everyone begins to round up the animals that are not attached to the walls and floors of the exhibit. Snails and chitons are left attached and sea anemones, not attached to removable rocks, hang around while the scrubbing proceeds.

While the pool drains, unusable rocks, shells and sand are placed in trash bags for disposal. Algae are scrubbed off rocks, screens, gratings and inside PVC pipes with existing tide pool water. New sand is poured all around the tide pool floor.

With the exhibit looking like new, the freshly mixed saltwater is carefully checked several times for proper temperature, pH and salinity. Only then are the animals placed back in the tidepool. This is an exciting time for Animal Caretakers because they can rearrange where the animals and their props go as they return them to the exhibit. On your next visit, look for some of our less noticeable fish, now living towards the front of the pool. The animals may move over time, but for now they’re in a great position for fun interaction.

Now they wait for your visit. Come see the clean Puget Sound Saltwater Tide Pool when Pacific Science Center reopens to the public September 26.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Big Clean - Week 1

Pacific Science Center is closed to the public until September 25 but that doesn’t mean that the Life Sciences staff is on vacation. On the contrary!

First of all, we are taking advantage of this closure to thoroughly clean the Tropical Butterfly House. Horticulturists Jeff Leonard and Maida Ingalls are dramatically pruning back the foliage, amending the soil, planting and transplanting. With the help of Discovery Corp Horticulture Intern Ileana and other staff members, they are cleaning, painting, changing out the day-light light bulbs and, for the first time in 5 years, completely replacing the netting.

Replacing the unobtrusive netting that surrounds the interior and ceiling of the Tropical Butterfly House is the most challenging task we face. The netting is our secondary containment structure while the windows serve as our primary containment structure. Should a window break, the net keeps the butterflies from escaping. Butterfly containment is our most important focus!

Over time, holes have appeared in the netting because of light damage, foliage growth, and just plain aging. After 5 years, we are no longer able to keep up with mending these holes and therefore, new netting has been ordered. Over 500 square yards of 1/4 inch netting material will be fitted, connected and hung during the closure weeks.

Although the pupae purchases were suspended until September 21, there are still quite a few butterflies flying around the Tropical Butterfly House. Staff is busily cleaning around the long-lived lepidoptera.

The horticulture team has been putting in long hours and hard labor all week in an effort to have the Tropical Butterfly House look fantastic by the time we reopen. We are very thankful for all their hard work!

Check back as we keep you up-to-date on the progress of The Big Clean.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Life Cycle of a Butterfly Shipment - an overview

On any given day, Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House usually houses between 600 and 800 live butterflies, but the average adult butterfly usually lives for just a couple of weeks! So how do we keep our butterfly populations so plentiful?

Every week, we purchase approximately 500 new pupae from our various butterfly vendors. Each shipment contributes to a diverse and stable population of butterflies that fly freely throughout our exhibit. As a way of understanding the logistics of butterfly population control, Lead Animal Caretaker Brianna Todd, has outlined the typical “life cycle” of a butterfly shipment:
Days 1 to 3: Boxes of pupae are shipped from butterfly farms around the world. Delivery usually takes a few days, as it must pass through USDA customs inspection. A few butterflies may have already eclosed, (emerged from their chrysalis) by the time we open the package.

Days 3 to 6: The emerging window is full of new butterflies as pupae complete metamorphosis and adult butterflies emerge.

Days 6 to 12: Most of the butterflies in the shipment have emerged by now and are happily flying in the butterfly house but the slower-developing species are eclosing at this time.
Days 12 to 14: The entire shipment has been released and is flying in the butterfly house. The butterflies that emerged shortly after the shipment arrived are beginning to die off.

Days 14 to 29: Most of the butterflies from the shipment end their life cycle. A few species have exceptionally long lives and may still be spotted.
Days 30 plus: Most of the butterflies from a shipment have expired with a few exceptions.

Pacific Science Center will be closed to the public September 14 – 25 for maintenance. During that time, Life Sciences staff will thoroughly clean the Tropical Butterfly House. A major component of this year’s “Big Clean” is the complete replacement of the butterfly house netting for the first time in 5 years. This means that we have to take steps to drastically reduce the butterfly population beforehand and then be prepared to replenish our stock in time for the public reopening, September 26.

Follow along over the next few weeks as we track the progress of this year’s Big Clean.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mole-Rat Pups at One Month

This week will mark two milestones for our naked mole-rat pups: Their eyes have opened and they will soon be completely weaned from their mother’s milk.

On September 5, our one month-old baby naked mole-rats were observed with their eyes open. This might have actually begun a few days earlier. Like many new-born animals, naked mole-rats are born with their eyelids fused and remain unable to open them for a period of time. This is less of an obstacle to naked mole-rats than to kittens or puppies. Even adult mole-rats do not rely on vision to navigate their tunnels, recognize colony members or find food. The babies have been happily wandering the tunnels well before their eyes opened. Still, we are encouraged by this development.

Sometime around September 12, the baby mole-rats will be completely weaned. Already they rely mostly on solid food and their continued weight gain is sign that they are processing it well. It is a real treat to watch them eat. They can pack in a lot of food with their tiny mouths!

Their behavior is changing too. Now the babies engage in gentle sparring with each other or with older workers without evidence of any harm coming to them. Do not be alarmed – most young animals play/ fight. Just watch our visitors during school group season!

As you watch the pups playing, you may notice that a second female mole-rat is pregnant. It is uncommon for more than one naked mole-rat to produce pups in a single colony. What’s going on here? We are closely watching the behavior of both females, the colony and the pups to try to determine the answer. Is our colony splitting into two? Will one queen cease to have pups as the other’s pups thrive? Or will the two exist side by side in a two queen colony?

We still don’t have the answers but are enjoying watching these pups grow and learning more about these fascinating creatures.

To be continued…

For more information, here is a link to a very helpful article on all the relevant facts about normal mole-rat life and behaviors. If you ever want to look up anything about them it is probably in here somewhere.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Insects in Motion

Biology graduate student Andrew Mountcastle is studying the wing flexibility of insect flight at the University of Washington so it was only natural for him call up the Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House for collaboration. Could he film some of our butterflies in flight with his high-speed color video cameras? Of course! Including his footage from our own Tropical Butterfly House, Andrew has created a series of short videos of various insects in flight. As part of his lab’s outreach program, they have allowed this video to be displayed outside the exhibit for visitors to enjoy as they wait in line.

You have to see these amazing slow motion videos to truly appreciate the mechanics of insect flight. If you can’t wait to visit the Tropical Butterfly House, go directly to Andrew’s website and view his QuickTime movies. You’ll never observe a dragonfly in fight – or a leaping frog in pursuit of a dragonfly - the same way again!

Pacific Science Center is grateful to the University of Washington Department of Biology Daniel Lab, Vision Research and Andrew Mountcastle for the production of this film.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Stick Bug Amnesty Redux

In June, the Life Sciences Department announced that the United States Department of Agriculture is allowing us to accept any non-native stick insects as an incentive for schools, pet stores, and private citizens to retire their colonies. So far, we've had a couple of responses to our appeal.

This is a reminder that, in the wild, these insects are invasive and have the potential to severely harm the environment. Remember: Vietnamese Stick insects are parthenogenic. In other words, eggs from females are viable without being fertilized – not an uncommon occurrence in insects. In addition to being careful with containment of the insect, any bedding must be destroyed. This means incineration or freezing. (Do not compost!)

Please contact us at if you have any questions or would like to participate in our Stick Bug Amnesty Program.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New Moth in Town

If you like pretty, you will love Argema mimosae, the African Luna, or Moon Moth.

Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House recently received a shipment of them and the first have started emerging. Yellow/green in color, with spectacular long tails and eyespots, these nocturnal moths often rest with their wings open and tails crossed.

Members of the Saturniidae family, Argema mimosae are also known as the giant silk moths. True to their name, silkmoths spin firm, dense silken cocoons. They are not the same as the cultivated silk moth. The largest Lepidoptera belong to this family, which includes the Lunas, Atlas moths, Royal moths and Washington State’s own Polyphemus moth.

Argema mimosae is native to South-Central Africa and eats the foliage of Sclerocarya caffra, an edible fruit related to mangos. They have been successfully reared in captivity on several plants from the same family (Anacardiaceae), including poison ivy! So while pretty, they are pretty tough, too.

Adult Saturniid moths have reduced or no mouthparts and live very short lives. This means that you should come see them these beautiful moths soon!
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