Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fresh Sheet - November 27, 2011

“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.


21 - Anartia amathea (Scarlet Peacock)
05 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
47 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
41 - Catonephele orites (Orange-banded shoemaker)
08 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
05 - Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
15 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
43 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
41 - Heraclides thoas (Giant Swallowtail)
24 - Mechanitis polymnia (Polymnia Tigerwing)
52 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Total = 302

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Return of the Monarchs

Daneus plexippus, the Monarch butterfly, is perhaps the most recognizable resident in our Tropical Butterfly House. The species is famous for its seasonal migration and spectacular overwintering at specific sites in California and Mexico. In recent years Monarch migratory populations have been in decline – until now.

A fascinating article from the San Francisco Chronicle website reports on the increasing number of Western monarchs returning to their winter homes:

Thanksgiving weekend is when the annual Western monarch butterfly count takes place and so far, the preliminary numbers are very encouraging. To learn more about what you can do to attract Monarchs to your backyard visit The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation website.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Winterizing the Animals

Pacific Science Center is a great place to spend a cold, blustery winter day. But once in a while, the weather becomes so bad that travel is not advised. During that past few winters, we have had at least one day each year when unsafe road conditions lead PSC to make the tough decision to remain closed. And while some exhibits can simply be turned on and off, the animals that live here need a little more care.

Pacific Science Center’s policy of alternative service helps us recruit a core group of emergency helpers. Every full time staff member must work 40 hours per year in some department other than their own. This helps departments understand each other’s work better and allows people to pitch in where help is needed most. In the case of snow coverage, we are looking for a very special group. These folks must live near enough to Pacific Science Center that they could safely walk in during a snow storm. They must also be comfortable working alone, must have a deep love of animals, and must show great attention to detail. A handful met all our criteria and began training.

Our animal care program has two main goals. One is to educate. For this, our animals must look their best, and be in surroundings that help our guests observe, wonder, and ask questions. The other, more basic, is to keep the animals themselves happy. On days when we are closed, we focus on meeting the life needs of the animals. We also want to ensure that caretakers who are trudging through the snow can finish with plenty of daylight to make a safe journey home.

In training these emergency caretakers, we covered some basic but important tasks; feeding the tide pool, releasing butterflies, feeding naked mole-rats, and ensuring that every animal is safe, happy and secure. The most likely problems that an emergency caretaker might encounter are low cage temperatures, empty water dishes, and perhaps an animal that finished off its food faster than we expected.

However, in Animal Care, we’ve learned to expect the unexpected. These folks will be working on their own and may encounter all kinds of unexpected situations. Help is only a phone call away, but only in the form of coaching and advice. We have full confidence that each of these new trainees will give the animals great care, and in return, we hope we give them an experience outside their daily job duties. Perhaps a few of them will even earn themselves a ballad.
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Fresh Sheet – November 18, 2011

If you like Papilio lowii (Sunset swallowtail), you’re going to love this week’s shipment from the Philippines!


150 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
49 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)
15 - Idea leuconoe (Paper Kite)
25 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
20 - Pachliopta kotzeboea (Pink Rose)
50 - Doleschalia bisaltide (Autumn Leaf)
80 - Parthenos sylvia philippensis (The Clipper)
30 - Cethosia biblis (Red Lacewing)
20 - Ideopsis juventa (Wood Nymph)
16 - Papilio polytes (Polite Swallowtail)
50 - Hypolimnas bolina (Blue moon)

Total = 505

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fresh Sheet – November 12, 2011

With the weather turning cold and the days growing shorter, now is a good time to visit the warmth and light of the Tropical Butterfly House.

El Salvador

30 - Battus belus (Belus Swallowtail)
25 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
10 - Colobura dirce (Mosaic butterfly)
25 - Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
14 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
10 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
10 - Lycorea cleobaea (Large Tiger)
20 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
30 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
30 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
30 - Papilio cresphontes (Giant Swallowtail)
10 - Papilio erostratus (Dusky Swallowtail)
10 - Parides photinus (Queen of Hearts)
20 - Prepona demophon (One-spotted Prepona)

Total = 274

“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.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lesson Learned

On the morning of November 1, Cari Garand knew that something was not right with the naked mole rats. She saw immediately that they had pushed aside the tube leading into one of their chambers, and entered into the surrounding enclosure. But to Cari’s eyes, the amount of mess did not match with the single animal loose in the enclosure.

She followed the trail of bedding and found that there was more. Much more.

Following the exploits of our dispersing morph last year, the Animal Care department had made what we believed to be a comprehensive survey of the enclosure, to tighten up any crevices large enough for a mole-rat to climb through. But four enterprising (and small) individuals found a crack a bit larger than a tube of lipstick and managed to crawl out through it. On the other side, they encountered drywall board.

Lest anyone wonder which is stronger, be it known that drywall is no match for the teeth of a determined naked mole-rat. The wall was chewed into, and the animals entered into the space beyond.

Fortunately, the studding in the walls at Pacific Science Center is metal. When they encountered this, the mole rats were stymied, and spent the remainder of the night in the small cavity beneath the hole they had chewed.

Once she figured out where they were, Cari oversaw Lisa Marchisio’s careful removal of the wall board, and Adrian Eng retrieved the animals. Their temperatures were low from a night spent outside the climate controlled habitat, but they were otherwise healthy and unhurt.

Cari, along with Brianna Todd, made sure that all individuals were accounted for, and in good condition. We checked for injuries, made sure they were adequately hydrated, gradually returned them to ambient temperature, and returned them to their colony.

Then the real work began. The enclosure was scoured for crevices small enough to fit a pencil through. Only one was found, the one the four had used. It was sealed with Plexiglas which would take the colony days of solid chewing to breach.

The individual chambers were also secured more firmly in place, and the configuration of the chambers was moved around to provide stimulating enrichment. If the escape was due to boredom, mixing things up will help prevent future behavior issues.

Animal care is an interesting blend of optimism and pessimism. The caretaker must believe that they possess the skills to keep animals happy, secure and contained. But they must never assume that any animal will stay happy, secure and contained without ongoing investment of time and thought. The happy ending to this story does not mean that our work is done, it is an invitation for us to review our practices and look for further ways to improve them, so that future escapes are neither possible, nor made necessary through lack of stimulating habitat for the mole rats.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Food for Thought

By Adrian Eng

For a lot of people like me, food isn’t just consumption of fuel but can often be an experience that invokes a variety of emotions. One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “What would your last meal on earth be?" For me personally, perfection comes as a plate topped with oblong mounds of rice and fresh raw fishes lying on top. Sushi is the ultimate in exotic food experiences, combining subtle flavors and unique textures. I can imagine each bite of sushi causes my brain to produce some sort of endorphin explosion.

So when I tell you how much I love sushi, you can get an idea of the kind of mixed emotions I had when I decided to attend the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program hosted at the Seattle Aquarium. The Seafood Watch program is a respected source for sustainable seafood information in the U. S. They work to inform consumers as well as collaborate with restaurants, parts of the fishing industry and other seafood businesses on sustainable fishing practices. As a consumer, I was very interested in learning about the food I was eating and understanding the kinds of impacts my decisions were making. But I was also very aware that at this point I was content eating without that knowledge. What was I going to learn and was it going to change my sushi experience?

Our guest speaker was Sheila Bowman, the Senior Outreach Manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program. She did a great job offering details behind Seafood Watch Program, from its inception to some of their current practices and policies. Every selection on their National Sustainable Seafood Guide goes through rigorous researching and fact checking. They start by analyzing large amounts of data. This initial information undergoes months of review as it goes through the hands of fisheries, experts in the industries and leaders in the marine field. After the information gets refined it still goes through a series of revisions by expert peers before being published. A big part of their strategy is the program’s commitment to collaborating with every level of the fishing business. They work with consumers, restaurants, fish vendors, grocer‘s markets, fishing boats and seafood corporations. The Seafood Watch Program has gained traction and it shows in their long and growing list of partnerships.

So how does all of this information apply to the consumer? The first thing to do is ask the right questions: What do you know about your seafood? Was it farmed or wild-caught? Where was it caught or raised? How was it caught or farmed? Most importantly, is it being overfished?

The Seafood Watch list is very large and quite daunting. However, many of the items are not common in the regular American diet, so I encourage you to not be overwhelmed. Start by listing the types of fish that you usually consume. Familiarize yourself with where these fish fall on the chart. If they are listed in the “Good” or “Best” columns, continue to enjoy them. If they are in the “Avoid” column, try researching some good alternatives. There are plenty of resources available for this. The Seafood Watch Program has a website ( that provides seafood recommendations, resources, recipes, partnership opportunities and current news. Pocket guides are available when shopping or ordering seafood and they now have a new cellphone app for the Android and iPhone to help you make good decisions when you’re eating out. Additionally, seafood products are starting to now offer sustainable approval seals.

I’m sure some people may think that it is a hassle to figure out which fish are good and which are bad. But the reality is that we regularly seek out information regarding all of the foods we consume every day. We make decisions on organic, cage free, fat free, low sodium, grass fed, processed, fortified and MSG free products. It’s important that we do the same with our seafood.

Nothing has changed about my passion for sushi. But I know that it’s going to take some adjusting to change how I regularly consume seafood. It is too hard for me to be ignorant to the dwindling resources of the sea and to eat without responsibility. I hope that we all take a little more initiative and help support this type of industry change. I urge you to find out what you’re eating and how your decision can make a difference. I personally will be tackling sushi Tuesdays at work with a little more insight and less consumption.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Breeding Butterflies

Recently, Life Sciences manager Sarah Moore attended the International Conference of Butterfly Exhibitors and Suppliers. This conference is held in a different location each year. In the past it has been held in Costa Rica, Switzerland, Malaysia and Ecuador. The locations may sound exotic, but to the people hosting them, they are home. The 2011 conference was held at Niagara Falls. Here is Sarah’s report.

Most of the time, when I tell people I work with butterflies, they are curious or a bit perplexed; but not the attendees of the International Conference of Butterfly Exhibitors and Suppliers. So it was a treat to spend a week with people who shared the job, duties, concerns, and joys of working with these delicate organisms.

During my visit, I was able to view a facility that raises many of their own butterflies through their entire life cycle. Since I am frequently asked why Pacific Science Center does not breed butterflies on site, I was especially curious to see the process and learn how much additional resources were involved. As it turned out, becoming a butterfly farmer is a serious endeavor.

The Butterfly Conservatory at Niagara Park has a state of the art butterfly breeding area adjacent to it. I spent so much time looking at this facility that I had to hurry through the wonderful butterfly house itself.

Butterflies never meet their offspring, but they put great care into securing appropriate food and habitat for them. A female butterfly will only lay her eggs on the correct plant material, at the correct stage of growth. There were several large, open rooms where host plant material is raised.

These plants are kept in semi-tropical temperatures – a big deal in chilly Niagara. Although to protect the butterflies, pesticides are never used, the plants were nevertheless in great shape and appeared free from any kind of unwanted insect.

Once the plant is large and strong, it is placed in a smaller flight cage where female butterflies are introduced. The butterflies mob the plants, laying eggs for 24 to 48 hours. The plants are then removed to another netted room, where once the eggs hatch out, additional plants are offered to the caterpillars as they grow.

These giant birdwing swallowtail caterpillars are especially hard to raise. They eat plants rich in toxic substances, which they use to make their own bodies distasteful. However, they can become sick from eating too much of the toxin.

In the wild, the caterpillars would chew around the base of the plant, girdling it, to prevent the flow of toxins up the branch. Then they would eat the leaves, and that section of the plant would die. In captivity, the plants are cut, aged in water and then supplied to the larvae. The stems are wrapped with netting to protect them from being chewed through.

But in the end, the birdwing butterflies are worth it. I hope to be able to order some of these spectacular butterflies in time for the holidays!

A good conference always leaves the participant’s head buzzing with possibilities. Could Pacific Science Center breed its own butterflies? Not with our current permits, and probably not with the resources available to us. Could we breed a few specimens to demonstrate the life cycle? This is a more realistic possibility, and one I will be exploring further.
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