Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Discovery Corps Wants to Know – Part 1

Discovery Corps is a youth development program at Pacific Science Center for high school students who are interested in learning more about science and interacting with the public. Youth in the program practice their communication skills by welcoming our guests to exhibit areas, interpreting science for Tropical Butterfly House and Puget Sound Tide Pool exhibit guests, answering questions and leading guests through hands-on science activities. Along with these job duties, members also participate in special training opportunities, workshops, and field trips.

A recent training session for Discovery Corps youth prepared them for leading conversations and activities with guests about butterflies. They also had a chance to ask Life Sciences Manager Sarah Moore and her staff some interesting questions.

Below are the youths’ first round of questions with Life Sciences’ answers. Check them out here, and then visit our Discovery Corps members in the exhibits of Pacific Science Center to see what they have to show you!

-Portia Riedel, Discovery Corps Coordinator

What is the biggest butterfly we’ve had at the Science Center?

We have two contenders for biggest butterfly. On paper, the Common Green Birdwing, Ornithoptera priamus, is the biggest, with a seven inch wingspan. But in fact, we tend to get much smaller specimens.

The second biggest butterfly we get is Caligo eurilochus, the Giant Forest Owl butterfly. Although their wingspan is “only” five inches, they are heavy, massive butterflies, and perhaps have larger overall wing surface than the birdwing.

How does Animal Care not harm the butterflies when releasing them?

Animal Care staff is very careful when handling butterflies for release into our exhibit. We use a special forceps designed not to rub scales loose. We secure the butterfly by restraining all four of its wings. That way it cannot damage itself by flapping one wing hard enough to break it.

We handle each butterfly the minimum number of times necessary to get it into the exhibit. If a butterfly is very active, we wait until it calms down and try again rather than trying to make it hold still when it’s wriggling around.

But in spite of every precaution, we do occasionally damage a butterfly’s wings. Part of why we feel so strongly that touching butterflies can harm them, is because we have experienced how little margin for error there is in safely handling them.

Do we have any endangered species?

We do not have endangered species featured in the butterfly house. However, the Birdwing butterflies are listed in Appendix II of the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) convention. They are not currently endangered but may become so due to either trade or habitat destruction.

We feel confident purchasing them from vendors who breed or farm them, rather than those who capture them from the wild. Raising butterflies in captivity does not harm their wild counterparts, and can help preserve their habitat.

What efforts are put into heating the butterfly house?

The butterfly house has a boiler that moves hot water through a tube around the outer edge of the exhibit. The tube is about six inches in from the glass around the outside edge of the exhibit – you can sneak a peek at it if you look over the concrete blocks at exit. Radiator-like “fins” which spread out the heat into the air surround the tube.

There is also a forced air heater that vents warm air into the exhibit.

And the light bulbs, at 1000 watts each, produce a good deal of heat as a byproduct of their light.

More great questions with more great answers will be posted soon. Stay tuned!

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