Saturday, April 30, 2016

Fresh Sheet – April 30, 2016

This week you will find tigers, and leopards, and crows! (Oh, my!) in our Tropical Butterfly House. But don’t be afraid. They are all members of the Order Lepidoptera from Malaysia. Stop by and check them out!

Penang Butterfly Farm

83 - Cethosia cyane (Leopard Lacewing)
44 - Chilasa clytia (Common Mime)
18 - Danaus vulgaris (Blue Glassy Tiger)
05 - Euploea core (Common Crow)
80 - Parthenos sylvia (The Clipper)
70 - Tirumala septentrionis (Dark Blue Tiger)

Total = 300

“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.

Read more!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Farewell to the Angel's Trumpet Tree

By Jenn Purnell

For many years there have been two Angel’s Trumpet trees in our Tropical Butterfly House (Brugmansia × candida). These trees are in the center bed, and have large, pale orange, trumpet-shaped flowers. We have recently decided to remove these two trees and replace them with different plant species. Because the Angel’s Trumpet trees are some of the most recognized and well-loved plants in our Tropical Butterfly House, we want to let everyone know why we are removing them.

Many plants defend themselves from being eaten by producing toxins. There are things we do to minimize guests' exposure to these toxins: asking guests not to touch plants and pruning certain plants so they are out of reach. The Angel’s Trumpet trees are a special challenge because they are large plants that continually grow outward towards the walkway and they drop leaves readily throughout the day. Consuming the foliage can cause severe medical reactions. Now that our trees have grown to fill the entire space, the concern of someone grabbing a leaf has become very real. The plant's beauty is not enough reason to keep something that could harm our guests. Yet a longstanding plant is like a team member, and these trees will be missed.

As sad as we are to lose these two beautiful trees, we are excited to try out some new plants. There are dozens of tropical tree species that have exciting traits – fabulous flowers, interesting bark, nectar for butterflies, ethnobotanic uses, educational potential, etc. We will be removing the Angel’s Trumpet trees over the next few weeks, and trying out two new plant species. Stay tuned to find out more about the newcomers!

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Stick Insect Amnesty

By Sarah Moore

Do you have some stick insects or walking stick bugs that you inherited from a classroom, or got as a pet, and that you don’t want any more? Did you know that Pacific Science Center has permission from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to accept any non-native stick insects?

The USDA fears that there are many non-native stick bugs that have the potential to become naturalized and harmful pests. We encourage stick bug owners to retire their colonies by bringing them to us. If they are able to escape into the outdoors, these insects are invasive and have the potential to severely harm the environment. Many species of stick insect are parthenogenic, meaning capable of reproducing without males. In other words, eggs from females are viable without being fertilized. So in addition to careful containment of the insect, all their bedding must be destroyed – ideally by freezing. (Do not compost!)

In some states, the USDA has dealt with colonies of these insects being released into new habitats and becoming established. We want to make sure that Seattle and its environs don’t have this happen. We will cheerfully accept any stick insects that are brought to us.

If you would like to bring us your stick insects, please contact us at We will make arrangements for you to bring them in to the Science Center.
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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Fresh Sheet – April16, 2016

This week's pupae shipment contains beautiful selection butterflies from Costa Rica including some members of the tiger wing complex. Come visit our Tropical Butterfly House and see how many different species you can spot!

Suministros Entimológicos Costarricenses, SA
CRES Costa Rica

03 - Agraulis vanilla (Gulf Fritllary)
32 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
25 - Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
20 - Danaus plexippus (The Monarch)
14 - Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
08 - Eueiudes isabella (Isabella’s Longwing)
25 - Greta oto (Glasswing)
11 - Heliconius cydno (Cydno Longwing)
66 - Heliconius doris (Doris Longwing)
25 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
20 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
25 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
32 - Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
28 - Myscelia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
30 - Papilio thoas (Thoas Swallowtail)
15 - Siproeta epaphus (Rusty-tipped Page)
24 - Siproeta stelenes (Malachite)

Total = 403

“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.

Read more!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Look--It’s Another Tiger Wing Butterfly!

By Katie Malmberg

Imagine you are a bird and an orange butterfly speeds past you. You ate an orange butterfly once and it made you sick, but you don’t know if this is the same kind of butterfly. You have to make a snap decision about whether or not to eat it, and you have to do it quickly. Chances are, you would avoid this butterfly on the off chance it was the same toxic butterfly you tried to eat before.

Over 100 butterfly species have flown in our Tropical Butterfly House since it opened in 1998. At any one time, we probably have more like 30 butterfly species represented, and it can be challenging just to identify that many, especially when they are flying. Some butterflies stand out and are readily distinguishable, but others are more difficult to identify because they look so much alike. One such group, the tiger wing complex, does not look alike by chance; they look alike because they are mimics.

Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)

Lycorea cleobaea (Large Tiger)

When I first started working at Pacific Science Center, nearly four years ago, it took me a long time to realize how many tiger wing butterfly species we had; for a while I thought that they were all the same butterfly, when in actuality, we typically have at least four orange and black butterfly species at any given time. I wanted to get better at identifying them, but it was difficult to identify from photographs alone because they didn’t show scale and some details get lost. I decided that I wanted to make a shadow box with these butterfly species for our staff to use, but first I wanted to learn more about mimicry.

Mimicry is when two or more species, which share a superficial resemblance, but are otherwise not necessarily closely related, gain advantage from their similarity. In the case of butterflies, the most typical advantage to gain somehow helps them to avoid predation. Mimicry is different from camouflage because the butterflies are not blending in, they are standing out. There are two different types of mimicry, both of which are prominent in the world of butterflies.

Batesian Mimicry is when one butterfly evolves to share a similar appearance to another butterfly which is inedible or poisonous to predators. The butterfly might be delicious, but birds and other predators mistake it with the noxious butterfly. Predators are less likely to eat any butterfly that looks like that again, so butterflies which share that appearance are more likely to pass their genes on to the next generation. One example of Batseian mimicry in butterflies is the poisonous Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, and its non-poisonous mimic the Viceroy, Limenitis archippus, a species we don’t fly in our Tropical Butterfly House.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Viceroy butterly (Limenitis archippus) photo © Katarzyna Kamila

Müllerian Mimicry is when two or more species evolve to look alike, and all are unpalatable or poisonous to predators. Since a bird might confuse the first orange butterfly it tries to eat with all other orange butterflies, it is likely to avoid eating ALL orange butterflies in the future. This behavior is reinforced if it tries to eat two different orange butterfly species, and has the same experience twice. All orange butterflies benefit from looking like each other and tasting bad and/or being poisonous because they spread the word to predators. The tiger wing complex is an example of Müllerian Mimicry; they all look alike, and they are all inedible.

Heliconius hecale (left) and Tithoria harmonia (right) share a Psiguria vine flower.

After researching mimics, and collecting some specimens, I felt more confident with my ability to distinguish them, and started to put together the shadow box. I decided to use a clear shadow box so that we could easily view the dorsal and ventral side of their wings. I chose the five butterflies we get most often and have the most difficult time differentiating.

As a guest of our Tropical Butterfly House, if you see a tiger wing butterfly, take a moment to look at the details and compare the differences. You might find out that you have seen many more butterfly species than you first thought!

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Monday, April 11, 2016

The Butterfly Farm of Familia Otárola

This is the last article in the series by Life Sciences Volunteer Terry Pagos about her visits to butterfly farms in Costa Rica with her host, Paola Vargas Salas, Export Manager of Costa Rica Entomological Supply (CRES).

The farm of the Otárola family is located in Guácimo, one of the finest agricultural regions in Costa Rica. This area is known for its cattle, corn, pineapple, and banana plantations. The Otárola family first met CRES founder Joris Binckerhoff in the early 1990s and began raising the native Caligo (Owl) butterflies for CRES. From that beginning, the family studied other species and was soon permitted by the Costa Rican government to farm other butterfly pupae for export. Today, they raise approximately 20 different butterfly species in more than 40 nurseries on their farm. On the 700-hectare farm they allocate 3 hectares to raising butterflies and 3 hectares to raising flowers, a new industry. The rest of their farm is devoted to cattle.

When we arrived at the Otárola family butterfly farm, Odir and his sister Elsa took us out to the gardens to show us the process. All the butterfly larvae are raised in host plant filled nurseries, large and small structures of netting that protect the caterpillars from predators. Inside a large nursery, we walked among host plants and trees watching several species of larvae busily chomping away on the leaves.

When a caterpillar is ready to pupate, it becomes zombie-like - a walker. It closes its mouth and no longer eats. Then during the nighttime, it climbs up the tree trunk to escape danger looking for a safe place to pupate.

We watched Odir climb up a ladder to collect the “zombie” Morphos and take them back to pupating cabinets in their workshop. Because the Morpho caterpillar has hairs that cause allergic reactions on some people's skin, collecting these critters is an unpopular job.

Some species of caterpillars may be placed in cabinets with foliage to await pupation. For the Morphos, the Otárolas place large screens in the bottom of the cabinets for the caterpillars to eventually settle on and pupate. The screens prevent the pupae from getting deformed or clumping together. They also allow the pupae to make an ample amount of silk – something pupae pinners appreciate. We watched Elsa make quick work, harvesting the Morpho pupae off the screens.

Over the years, the Otárola family learned that smaller nurseries are less expensive to maintain and generate better product. Butterfly farming is an industry that is still developing processes and seeking efficiencies. Furthermore, farmers are very aware of changes in the climate and how those changes can affect their animals and insects. Two years ago, they experienced a cold snap between 12ºC and 14ºC, causing serious losses. While we were visiting, the region was experiencing rising temperatures and very little rain. Too warm weather impacts the growth of the necessary foliage for larvae. And yet, too much rain can prevent butterflies from successfully laying eggs.

We left our tour with an appreciation of all the effort and passion that goes into producing butterfly pupae for the enjoyment of our guests at Pacific Science Center. We sincerely thank the kind and generous people we met at the butterfly farms and we’re especially grateful to our friend and host Paola Vargas Salas. Her warm hospitality and tireless enthusiasm for this industry was invaluable to our understanding the intricacies of butterfly farming. And we would have been helpless without her excellent translation. Thanks, Pao!

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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Fresh Sheet – April 9, 2016

This week we have 575 butterfly pupae from two countries filling the emerging window of our Tropical Butterfly House. Stop by and see if your favorite species is emerging.

Neotropical Insects NV

20 - Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
15 - Heraclides thoas (Thoas Swallowtail)
10 - Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
40 - Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
15 - Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
45 - Dryas iulia (Julia Longwing)
15 - Anartia amathea (Scarlet Peacock)
5 - Hamadryas amphinome (Red Calico)
25 - Archeoprepona demophoon (Hubner’s Prepona)
40 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
25 - Eryphanis polyxena (Purple Mort Bleu Owl)
15 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Total = 270

Bioproductores de El Salvador
El Salvador

10 - Archeoprepona demophoon (Hubner’s Prepona)
36 - Battus belus (Belus Swallowtail)
15 - Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
20 - Catonephele numilia (Halloween Butterfly)
20 - Eurytides thymbraeus (White-crested Swallowtail)
20 - Heliconius charitonius (Zebra Longwing)
10 - Heliconius hortense (Mountain Longwing)
10 - Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
10 - Lycorea cleobaea (Large Tiger)
30 - Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
25 - Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
10 - Papilio androgeus (Queen Page)
15 - Papilio erostratus (Dusky Swallowtail)
24 - Papilio torquatus (Band-gapped Swallowtail)
25 - Prepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)
25 - Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

Total = 305

Grand Total = 575

“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.

Read more!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Visit to Jardín Ecológico Pierella

This article is a continuation of the previous post by Life Sciences Volunteer Terry Pagos about her visit to butterfly farms in Costa Rica with her host, Paola Vargas Salas, export manager of Costa Rica Entomological Supply (CRES).

While doing Lepidoptera research for the Natural History Museum in Costa Rica over 20 years ago, William Camacho Mendez met CRES founder Joris Brinckerhoff. Their mutual interest in butterflies started William’s career as a butterfly farmer in the mid-1990s.

With the help of a grant from the World Wildlife Fund and a small plot of land from his brother, William was able to start his butterfly farming business. Each year after sending money to his mother, William would buy a little more land.

Today, the grounds of Jardín Ecológico Pierella total over 40 hectares in the Sarapiquí lowlands of Heredia Province. With his wife Crystal Barrantes Guillen, William is using his pupae sales to shape Pierella into an ecotourism destination. Little by little they are transforming former cattle pastureland back into forest.

After a welcoming lunch, William showed us his butterfly nurseries. Large netted tents filled with host plants are constructed below a tall forest canopy. Within these tents are specific butterfly species raised under permit from the Costa Rican government. Isolation in these tents protects the butterflies from predators and viruses.

When the caterpillars pupate, the chrysalises are easily collected, placed in a transporting case, and taken to a nearby drop spot for pick-up by one of CRES’s drivers. The distance between CRES and Pierella is over 100 kilometers but takes more than 2 hours when traffic is moving well.

Besides raising butterflies, William’s passion is his conservation garden. While walking his grounds, we viewed frogs, iguanas, lizards, sloths, bats, and many species of birds. Peccaries, rescued parrots, and a young boa constrictor are also on display. Native flowers and plants grow around the property. Sugarcane and cacao can also be found. Education and conservation is their priority.

We were very welcomed at Jardín Ecológico Pierella and left with an inspiring appreciation of their work and vision. Anyone wanting to explore a well-kept tropical habitat and educational environment should consider a stop at William and Crystal’s garden paradise.

In the final blog post about our Costa Rican trip, we will visit a larger family-run butterfly farm operated by the Familia Otárola, also in the Caribbean lowlands.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Butterflies from Costa Rica

Almost every week this blog publishes a “Fresh Sheet” – a list of pupae we receive from distant countries to display in our Tropical Butterfly House. We know what happens after the pupae arrive but what happens before the pupae are shipped to Seattle?

Recently, Life Sciences Volunteer Terry Pagos went to Costa Rica for a birding expedition. Before her trip, she met up with Costa Rica Entomological Supply (CRES) Export Manager, Paola Vargas Salas, who graciously gave her a tour of CRES and introduced her to two butterfly farms in Costa Rica’s humid Caribbean lowlands. This is the first of three stories about what she learned.

To my surprise, butterflies for export are neither free-ranged nor factory farmed. Butterfly farming is a ecologically sustainable industry that not only benefits the economy but also educates the public about a beautiful biological system. Just as Pacific Science Center is required to have federal permits controlling the species we can fly in our Tropical Butterfly House, Costa Rica regulates butterfly farmers and issues permits that control the propagation and sale of butterfly pupae in Costa Rica.

Butterfly farms may only cultivate native endemic species. Frequent inspection by the agricultural authorities assures the exporter, CRES, that the butterfly trade is legal, healthy, and sustainable and that the butterfly farmers are adhering to the rules. Weather controls the availability and viability of butterfly populations. If it’s too dry, there won’t be enough food for the larvae and butterflies won’t lay eggs; too much rain, and the eggs won’t survive. Often, the rainy and dry seasons are inconsistent with pupae export demand.

Located near the international airport just outside of San José, Costa Rica, CRES is the central pupae collection hub for 80 unique butterfly farms that produce up to 8,000 pupae a week for distribution to 120 clients worldwide. Costa Rica is approximately the size of West Virginia, but more mountainous, and species distribution varies among the country’s twelve microclimates.

CRES keeps drivers busy picking up pupae from distant butterfly farms two- to three-times a week. Because most pupae will mature within 7 to 12 days, time is an important factor.

When the farmers’ boxes of pupae arrive at CRES, the packers carefully inspect and select pupae to send to their clients. The packers review a master order form and try their best to fulfill each client’s requests.

Every individual pupa is carefully examined for damage, parasitoids, disease, and viability. Then the pupae are packed for shipment to butterfly gardens in museums and science centers all over the world.

In addition to the packing and shipping facilities, CRES maintains an outdoor, enclosed butterfly garden that can be visited by appointment. The plants and flowers are the lush host plants that native butterfly species require.

Groundskeeper, Eduardo, displays pupating boxes that he maintains for caterpillars. These boxes serve a similar purpose to the Emerging Window and allow butterflies to complete metamorphosis in safety from predators and adverse weather. Butterflies from his collection are raised only for the CRES display garden.

After visiting the CRES distribution center, the next step was to visit two of the suppliers – the butterfly farmers themselves. Stay tuned for next blog post; a visit to Jardín Ecológico Pierella, a butterfly farm in the Caribbean lowlands where the owner is expanding his business into an educational garden for ecotourism.

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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Fresh Sheet – April 2, 2016

Malaysia is experiencing a heat wave that adversely affects pupation of some butterfly species. However, harsh weather conditions won’t prevent the following beautiful Lepidoptera from flying in our Tropical Butterfly House this week. Stop by and see!

Penang Butterfly Farm, Malaysia

10 - Attacus atlas (Atlas Moth)
80 - Cethosia cyane (Leopard Lacewing)
10 - Cethosia hypsea (Malay Lacewing)
12 - Danaus vulgaris (Blue Glassy Tiger)
06 - Euploea mulciber (Striped Blue Crow)
02 - Euploea phaenareta (Great Crow)
86 - Parthenos sylvia (The Clipper)
10 - Precis almana (Peacock Pansy)
04 - Tirumala septentrionis (Dark Blue Tiger)

Total = 220butterfly farm

“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.

Read more!