Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Make Way for the Monarchs!

In honor of the upcoming IMAX film “Flight of the Butterflies”, additional monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) will be displayed in the Tropical Butterfly House.

This has proven somewhat challenging. Monarchs are bred seasonally during the spring and summer months, and supplies are limited right now. This makes sense. In the wild, they would be in reproductive diapause all winter long. They would be conserving all their energy to survive the winter, and their reproductive organs would shut down until spring. Much as we might admire their adaptation, it has made finding them harder!

To hedge against possible late season pupa failure, we have purchased both butterfly chrysalis and adult butterflies for the opening week of the film. Did you know that butterfly vendors store adult butterflies in the fridge, sometimes for weeks or months at a time? It simulates the natural overwintering behavior of the butterflies and they are none the worse for wear when they get back up to warmer temperature. It’s not as simple as just sticking them in the vegetable drawer though. Temperature and humidity must be carefully monitored to stay within the safe range, or the butterflies may not recover.

Here is a short video of our Monarch release.

Monarch butterflies are attractive at every stage of development. If you've never noticed it, take a look at the giant chrysalis hanging by the emergency exit door of the Ackerley Family Gallery, near the orb of the Boeing Imax theater. Admire it, and then see the real thing in the emerging window. If you are lucky, you may see the pupae shortly before the adult emerges. At that point the wings have taken on adult color and are visible through the walls of the pupa.

One more note. Monarch butterflies are not typically a big part of indoor, tropical butterfly exhibits. They tend to be less zippy than some other species. However, they should flock together in groups, and they should all seek the same types of flowers and locations. It will be interesting to see how they use our space. We’d love to hear your observations!

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