Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Escape That Never Happened

Running a butterfly house is rewarding in so many ways, but keeping the little guys from escaping can be a real headache. Pacific Science Center maintains a permit with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which includes language describing the importance of containing our butterflies and outlining penalties for non-compliance. Butterflies from other habitats could disrupt native species or otherwise upset our local ecosystem, so aside from avoiding trouble, keeping them from escaping is simply good citizenship. We teach our guests to respect the environment and we want to do the same.

We periodically review the layout of our plants, the training we give our staff and the types of species we purchase, with the goal of making the butterflies in our exhibit happy to stay, while reducing their chances of getting out by accident.

Imagine our surprise while doing a walk around the perimeter of our campus the other morning. There on the glass wall above the door into the Ackerley Family Gallery, we saw a black and red butterfly basking in the morning sun.

Horticulturist Jeff Leonard saw it first. He had a moment of panic, and then got down to business, fetching a ladder while Life Sciences Manager Sarah Moore went for the telescoping net. The butterfly was safely captured and brought back indoors for identification.

That’s when we got our second surprise. Running through the species in our exhibit, it didn’t match up with anything. Furthermore, it looked strangely familiar. A few minutes thumbing through our beloved tome, “Lepidoptera of the Northwest” by Paul C. Hammond and Jeffrey C. Miller, revealed the truth. The butterfly was a Vanessa atalanta or red admiral. This species is native to the Pacific Northwest. It didn’t escape at all – it lives here.

We uttered a quick apology to the butterfly and sent it on its way. The question still remains – why was it sitting above the door into our exhibit? Perhaps it was trying to get in.

The photograph of the red admiral is in the public domain. Our photographer took the day off.


  1. Knew that little guy looked familiar

  2. What a pretty butterfly! I'm only used to seeing those little white ones locally, and this one is very colorful. I would have thought it belonged in a tropical environment, too.

  3. Maybe the butterfly didn't know PSC is closed until the 24th.