Monday, September 13, 2010

Trouble in a Pretty Package

In anticipation of the Pacific Science Center closing the next two weeks, the Tropical Butterfly House is without a pupae shipment, hence no “Fresh Sheet.” This break has Life Sciences manager, Sarah Moore reflecting on her pupae procurement responsibilities.

When I describe my job to people, a common question is whether I get to choose the butterflies we display Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House. The answer is, yes and no. Butterfly rearing, like much sustainable farming, is seasonal, diversified and unpredictable. So although there are tried and true species we nearly always have, we end up getting a unique blend in each shipment. But once in a while, a species of butterfly will distinguish itself in some way, for good or bad, and will go on my short list of “must have” or “don’t send” species.

One example of a “must have” species is Prepona omphale, the blue belly button. It has extremely healthy pupae, powerful flight and not one but two shades of brilliant blue on its wings. In short, it’s a keeper.

A butterfly that has caused more deliberation than the blue belly button is the Idea leuconoe or paper kite butterfly. I almost took these butterflies off my wish list due to poor emergence numbers. Even with the best husbandry practices, we lose a disappointing 20% of the pupae before they emerge. But once emerged, the adult is a unique and gorgeous creature. Add to that its unusual, leisurely flight patterns and an exceptionally long lifespan, and you have a species that nothing else can replace. This butterfly is always welcome in our exhibit.

The harder choices can be identifying those species that are not compatible with our exhibit. Recently, I reviewed the patterns of butterflies that make it into our vestibules and occasionally beyond.

One species stood out as a problem. Colobura dirce, the zebra mosaic, is a personal favorite butterfly. I love its distinctive stripes, its habit of roosting head downward, and its crazy, zigzag flight patterns. What I don’t like is the possibility that one of these butterflies may eventually escape from our museum. Their small size, cryptic coloration and habit of making short flights with frequent rests means that it often lands on people, and is rarely noticed when it does.

The information on this species was compelling enough that I have asked our vendors to stop sending them. While I will miss these fascinating butterflies, I know there will be other favorites ahead. What are your favorite butterflies in our exhibit?


  1. I love the omphales as well. They are so vibrant. I also like the Nessea aglara (sp), mostly because they are rather unpretentious looking on top but have a surprising and unusual gene on the bottom. Great post SArah and Terry!

  2. Oh, that would be COLOR, not GENE. Not sure how autocorrect made that lovely assumption. :)

  3. I love the morpho peleides. Their waxy green pupae is beautiful and the blue (my fav) coloration is stunning!

  4. Awe, I'm gonna miss the Zebra Mosaic too. I loved chatting with people about it, but definitely a wise decision Sarah.