Friday, October 30, 2009

Fresh Sheet - October 30, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.

El Salvador

20 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
12 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
30 - Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
10 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
15 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
30 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
100 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
30 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
10 - Myscelia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
10 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
15 - Prepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)
06 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)


13 - Anartia amathea (Scarlet Peacock)
60 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
10 - Biblis hyperia (Red Rim)
50 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
10 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
30 - Catonephele orites (Orange-banded shoemaker)
10 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
20 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
42 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
50 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
05 - Phoebis sennae (Cloudless Sulphur)

Read more!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Mole-Rat News

Many of our loyal readers have asked us for an update on the two litters of mole-rat pups. In fact, it seems that we have somewhat unfairly reported more about the first litter than the second. In the hopes of redressing this imbalance, we bring you this update on both litters.

The August babies are now big enough to weigh on the gram scale. In size, they are nearly caught up with the smallest of the grown colony members. Their most recognizable feature is their color – unlike older mole-rats or very small pups, they are deep grey. Their skin is less wrinkled than that of older animals, perhaps because they just grew into it. They look sleek, plump and slightly shiny. The August pups act like fully integrated colony members. They engage in the tasks of transporting food, chewing concrete and patrolling the tunnels. They seem to be a very self confident and have even engaged older and larger animals in some challenge-type behavior, like head shoving, or trying to walk over instead of under the bigger animal. It is pretty common to see the members of this litter far away from each other, interacting with older colony members rather than sticking together as littermates.

The September pups are also doing well. Their eyes have opened, they are now subsisting entirely on solid food though one was recently seen begging an adult for cecal pellets. These younger pups are still pink but starting to show their grey pigment. Pups from this litter are usually found together, and colony mates treat them like babies, carrying them in their mouths and herding them into the sleeping chamber when they stray. But don’t be fooled, these pups are very mobile and can get around the chambers on their own.

Occasionally, though, they do get stuck in a chamber with a tube just a bit out of reach. They must wait for a larger colony member to move them. Staff are identifying these spots and putting little steps in wherever the babies have trouble. The main task we have seen the pups do is tunnel cleaning – the famous “moon walk” where mole-rats walk slowly backward pushing bedding behind them as they go. Why clean backward? Helps keep dust and debris out of their faces.

Meanwhile, we have a female who is days away from delivering another litter. Our hope is that this time, with the experience of successfully rearing young, our colony will be able to care for these pups without the need to isolate them.
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Monday, October 26, 2009

My First Butterfly Release

By Jamie Klein

Before my butterfly release training I had no idea why butterflies needed to be released or how it is done, but after a morning with Lead Animal Caretaker Brianna Todd and a few butterflies I can tell you all about it. At Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House, butterfly releases are part of the daily routine that keeps the butterfly population thriving. The pupae are pinned to foam boards in what amounts to a white, padded window box displayed inside the butterfly house –the emerging window.

The first step was looking in the window to check for any parasitoids that may have emerged from an unsuspecting chrysalis. As I learned this morning, caterpillars are sometimes attacked by these tiny parasitic wasps before they pupate. It is difficult to identify a chrysalis that has been parasitized. That is, until the parasitoids suddenly emerge from the chrysalis and fly around the window. On this particular morning the window was free of parasitoids, so Brianna and I proceeded into the small room that accesses the back side of the emerging window.

I opened only one side of the double-doors containing the pinned pupae to avoid a butterfly free-for-all in the release room. I got my first close up look at the incredible variety of chrysalides. To me, some of the chrysalides looked like small brightly colored seashells, while others resembled curled up leaves. After a butterfly (or moth) has emerged from its chrysalis, it literally “hangs out” on the empty shell so its damp wings have time to dry. When their wings have dried and firmed up properly, they are ready to be caught for release.

Catching butterflies is tricky business! It is a Zen art that requires flat tipped forceps and a quick, yet steady approach. I was instructed to grasp the butterfly while its wings were closed, close to its body at the overlap of its hind and fore wings so it could not thrash and damage its delicate wings. Going for the butterflies with closed wings first, I quickly learned that each species reacted differently. Some species were easy targets. Others, like the Clipper (Parthenos sylvia), make it difficult because they do not land with their wings closed. I also found as a general rule, the smaller the wings, the feistier the butterfly!

Possibly even more difficult than catching butterflies with forceps is catching them with a net. A few renegade butterflies escaped the emerging window into the release room and made a fool out of me for a good 15 minutes while I tried unsuccessfully to net them all. Thank goodness for Brianna’s practiced netting skills, she was able to make quick work of them. Once caught, we placed the butterflies into lidded bins to be transported into the main butterfly house. Finally time for the actual release, we opened the bins and one by one picked up the butterflies and set them free.

Jamie Klein is Pacific Science Center’s new Exhibit Operations Coordinator. Recently, Jamie was trained to safely and carefully release butterflies from the emerging window. We thank her for sharing this experience with us!

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Fresh Sheet – October 23, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.


24 - Cethosia biblis (Red Lacewing)
20 - Danaus chrysippus (Plain Tiger)
12 - Doleschalia bisaltide (Autumn Leaf)
20 - Graphium Agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
100 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly)
100 - Idea leuconoe (Paper Kite)
12 - Pachliopta kotzeboea (Pink Rose)
60 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
20 - Papilio palinurus (Banded Peacock)
25 - Papilio polytes (Polite swallowtail)
20 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)
20 - Parthenus sylvia (Blue Clipper)

Read more!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Something to Chew On

In a recent blog article we mentioned that we provide the naked mole-rat colony with concrete blocks to chew on, and that the animals seem to treat these blocks as new frontiers that they guard and excavate. But can they really tunnel through?

Naked mole-rat’s teeth are big and scary looking, but they are not used for killing prey or chopping things in half. Naked mole-rats use their teeth for eating vegetables and tunneling, also for manipulating objects as we might use our hands. Their teeth are sensitive, versatile tools. They can handle newborn pups without harming them – or chew through concrete by taking many shallow, scraping bites.

This concrete block was flat when we put it in, and the colony quickly hollowed out the inside.

Animal Caretaker Dan Warner wanted something that would last longer and create less rubble. He experimented with concrete until he found a mixture that let the animals excavate, but not very quickly. Chewing concrete takes more than patience – it takes a lot of enamel. Luckily, the teeth of rodents including naked mole-rats, grow throughout their lives, replacing wear and tear so they can keep chewing.

Are they happy with their blocks? We believe that the blocks provide unique enrichment for the colony. The animals treat them differently than other areas. They routinely post an animal there - it is rare to see the block unstaffed by either an excavator or a guard, even when the rest of the colony is eating or sleeping. The mole-rats chew other parts of the exhibit as well – they chew up the edges of all their tubes, and scrape the inside of certain tubes, destroying them over time. But the concrete is by far their first choice.

Recently Dan observed some of our August 6 litter chewing on the concrete. We all see this as a good sign that they are developing well and using their teeth like their older relatives.

We are frequently asked if these cute little critters bite and does it hurt. Good question! Please tell us what do you think.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Fresh Sheet - October 16, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.

El Salvador

10 - Anteos maerula (Ghost sulfur)
15 - Battus belus (Belus Swallowtail)
15 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
08 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
20 - Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
20 - Doxocopa laure (Silver Emperor)
10 - Heliconius charitonius (Zebra Longwing)
20 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
09 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
20 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
80 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
20 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
15 - Myscelia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
30 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
10 - Papilio erostratus (Dusky Swallowtail)
30 - Papilio pilumnus (Three-tailed Swallowtail)
10 - Phoebis philea (Orange Barred Sulfur)
10 - Prepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)

Read more!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Halloween Butterflies

Ever notice how many of the butterflies in the Tropical Butterfly House look alike? Why are so many species orange and black? There’s a good reason. Many species of butterflies have evolved to resemble the appearance of other species. This is called mimicry and in the lepidopteran world it can be a matter of life and death. (Cue the spooky music).

Protective mimicry in butterflies is generally divided into two categories. Batesian mimics are palatable to vertebrate predators. They are not toxic but mimic toxic species to repulse would be predators. Müllerian mimics are noxious and have coevolved with other species to look similar to each other. This helps predators to recognize and avoid them.

One of the most famous examples of mimicry in nature is found in the Tiger Complex of butterflies. We are fortunate to exhibit a number of these species in the Tropical Butterfly House. The Mullerian mimics include Lycorea cleobaea, Mechanitis polymnia,and Tithorea harmonia. Our Batesian species includes Heliconius ismenius, Consul fabius, and Eueides Isabella.

So how does mimicry work? Think back to a time when you had food poisoning? Did you ever want to eat that food again? The same thing happens to butterfly predators. Predators won’t risk eating something that looks like the thing that made them sick. Food aversion is one of the strongest learning tools.

The photographs of Tiger Complex butterflies in the article are all different – or are they? Can you tell them apart? We can’t.

So remember next time you visit the Tropical Butterfly House: DON’T EAT THE BUTTERFLIES!

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Can You See The Difference?

Pacific Science Center was closed for two weeks in September. During that time, the Tropical Butterfly House underwent a major face lift . To illustrate the changes, Life Sciences Volunteer Terry Pagos took a few “Before and After” photographs. Can you see the difference?

Pruning not only makes the Tropical Butterfly House look less overgrown but also encourages the nectar providing flowers to grow. By trimming back foliage plants, we allow nectar providers more space to grow as well as more access to sunlight.

It took the dedicated horticulture staff and assistants more than 14 days to fill twenty-plus bags of pruned foliage. Horticulturist Jeff Leonard estimates that if each bag weighed a minimum of 50 lbs., then ½ a ton of plant material was pruned, pulled and extracted from the garden. In addition, we removed five full garbage cans of timber and netting for another one thousand pounds of refuse. You should be able to tell a difference!

Disposing of this material is not as simple as tossing it in a “Clean Green” bin. Because our facility is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture, all foliage, timber and netting had to be frozen at -20 F degrees for a minimum of 72hours. After the freezing process, the material is deemed “compostable.”

Come visit the Pacific Science Center this fall for your opportunity to see the Tropical Butterfly House at it’s very cleanest. We think you’ll notice the difference!

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Fresh Sheet - October 9, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.

Costa Rica

07 - Agraulis vanilla (Gulf Fritllary)
09 - Anartia fatima (Banded Peacock)
08 - Anteos chlorinde (White Angled Sulphur)
07 - Archeoprepona demophon (One-spotted Prepona)
17 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
21 - Caligo atreus (Yellow-Edged Giant-Owl)
14 - Caligo eurilochus (Forest Giant Owl)
07 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
07 - Catonephele orites (Orange-banded shoemaker)
34 - Danaus plexippus (The Monarch)
34 - Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
21 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
07 - Eueides isabella (Isabella’s Longwing)
18 - Heliconius doris (Doris Longwing)
11 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
25 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
35 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
10 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
07 - Heliconius sara (Sara Longwing)
21 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
07 - Hypna clytemnestra (Silver-studded Leafwing)
35 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
11 - Nessaea aglaura (Aglaura Olivewing)
13 - Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail)
07 - Parides childrenae (Green-celled Cattleheart)
11 - Parides iphidamas (Iphidamas or Transandean Cattleheart)
10 - Siproeta epaphus (Rusty-tipped Page)
15 - Siproeta stelenes (Malachite)
02 - Tithorea tarricina (Cream-Spotted Clearwing)

Read more!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Make the Most of Your Visit

When Life Sciences Manager Sarah Moore wore a bright red sweater to the Tropical Butterfly House, she noticed that she was mobbed by butterflies trying to land on her. This got her thinking about what a first time visitor's experience must be like. The following are her thoughts.

When you walk into Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House, you are entering the full time home of the butterflies that live there. From the time they emerge from the pupa, until they reach the natural end of their life cycle, the butterflies live, eat, sleep, attract each other and defend their territories inside the exhibit. We have some tips for visiting them, to help you be a good guest and enjoy them to their fullest.

First, there are some things we ask you not to do. You probably already know not to touch the butterflies. It can damage their wings and other body parts. But did you know that chasing butterflies can also harm them? Butterflies are small and have only a limited supply of energy. Being chased can cause them to use up their stored energy, even to the point where they lack the strength to fly to a flower and drink more nectar.

Speaking of flowers, we are proud of the fact that our butterflies enjoy long lives without artificial nectar supplements. They get all the food energy they need from the flowers and fruits we provide. But if our guests pick flowers, the nectar supply is limited, and the butterflies lack their most important food source. Please leave those lovely flowers for everyone.

While most people love butterflies, a few folks find their unpredictable flight to be unpleasant or even scary. If this is you, you are in good company, but please know that you have nothing to fear. Butterflies do not sting, bite or scratch. If other members of your group are frightened, please remain calm, and let them know that they are safe. Sometimes stepping out the exit and regrouping can help them become relaxed enough to try again.

Now – some suggestion for what you can do to enjoy the visit even more.

Leave winter outside. You will enjoy your visit more if you leave coats, heavy bags and anything else you can outside of the exhibit. The temperature is warm and relaxing – leaving your winter things behind helps you get into the mood. Food, flowers and all beverages but water must also stay out.

Experiment with color. Have different members of your group wear different bright colors. Do the butterflies seem to like one more than another?

Watch them eat. Butterflies drink nectar from flowers or juices from fruit. Nectar eating is fast. Butterflies approach the flower, unroll their proboscis, sip the tiny drip and move on. But you can watch them flitting from flower to flower for many minutes at a time. Drinking fruit juices takes much longer, and gives you a great chance for an up close view of a butterfly at rest. As long as you do not get to close, you will not disturb them.

Visit at different times of day. Come at opening time to watch newly emerged butterflies leave the chrysalis and dry their wings. Mid-day, the whole room is busy with the flight of brightly colored longwings and swallowtails. As the late afternoon comes, owls and morphos become more active, and longwing butterflies settle onto branches to sleep for the night.

Use the picture guide. Not only will this guide help you identify some of the butterflies and plants in the exhibit, it contains fun tidbits about the species and families of butterflies you are spotting.

Read more!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Tale of Two Queens

Our last update of Pacific Science Center’s naked mole-rat colony announced that we had a new litter of pups born on August 26 and Life Sciences staff were observing a second pregnant mole-rat. As naked mole-rat colonies usually have just one reproducing female, we wonder, “What’s going on here?”

First a little history: Naked mole-rats are eusocial animals with one reproducing queen per colony. Our previous mole rat queen died giving birth October 22, 2007. With no mother to nurse them, her offspring did not survive. Soon after, the entire colony faced serious health problems until rigorous husbandry protocols were enacted.

It was not until August 2008 that another female became pregnant. Appearing bloated, she was nick-named “The Gassy Rat” before we realized that this female was, indeed, pregnant. Now named Galinda, her pups never appeared; perhaps she miscarried or reabsorbed into her system.

Next on January 19, 2009 Galinda gave birth to a small litter that did not survive. Shortly after, another pregnant mole-rat was detected, Elphaba who gave birth to her own litter of pups. From then on, we continually monitored the two females, which were staggered so that both did not give birth at the same time. No pups from either queen-in-waiting survived until August 6 when Elphaba successfully produced a litter of seven three of which are still alive today. We had to wonder what would happen next. Would Galinda return to being a regular mole-rat worker or would she compete for the colony’s crown? Meanwhile, Galinda was often observed being very attentive to Elphaba’s pups while she was obviously carrying yet another litter.

On September 20, Galinda gave birth to a brood of seventeen. Of these, seven have survived the critical ten-day milestone. So now what happens? Will we observe the colony splitting into two factions? Can two queens co-exist in one colony? Come visit Elphaba, Galinda and our entire naked mole-rat exhibit at Pacific Science Center . And continue to check back on this blog for updates on our colony’s activities.

Thanks to Lead Animal Caretaker Brianna Todd for her meticulous recordkeeping that provided the background of this story.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Fresh Sheet - October 2, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.

El Salvador

10 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
18 - Heliconius charitonius (Zebra Longwing)
10 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
10 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
10 - Heliconius hortense (Mountain Longwing)
10 - Lycorea cleobaea (Large Tiger)
100 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
10 - Myscelia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
25 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
25 - Papilio erostratus (Dusky Swallowtail)
25 - Papilio pilumnus (Three-tailed Swallowtail)
10 - Parides photinus (Queen of Hearts)
08 - Phoebis philea (Orange Barred Sulfur)
25 - Prepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)
06 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Read more!