Rotting Fruit and Puddle Parties: Check out the Butterfly Pavilion!
It is that time of year again! Sunday is the opening of our Butterfly Pavilion, and although we still have hundreds of free-flying butterflies there's a lot that has changed out there. We have replanted the entire space, adding many more nectar and host plants for adults and caterpillars. We have also added new food sources for some of the adult butterflies that aren't quite so partial to sipping nectar!
The Mourning Cloak butterfly, Nymphalis antiopa, is one of the California native butterflies we put in our pavilion. Although these butterflies are not common to our area, they can be found in areas where their host plants thrive. Caterpillars of this species feed on various willow (Salix species), cottonwood (Populus species), and ornamental elms (Ulnus species). Unlike many of the other species of butterflies in our pavilion, the Mourning Cloak butterfly prefers to feed on rotting fruit rather than plant nectar. In an effort to appeal to the tastes of this epicurean butterfly, we've put out platters of rotting banana, mango, and plum.
We've also installed two mud puddles in the pavilion. These puddles will hopefully be places for butterflies to get the other nutrients they need beside sugar—nutrients like salt, amino acids, and nitrogen. In nature, male butterflies are often seen gathering on the edges of puddles. Sometimes large numbers of males gather at the same puddle, which entomologists have termed, puddle parties! Males more often exhibit this behavior because they need salts and other nutrients for their spermatophores. Spermatophores are small capsules containing sperm and nutrients that are passed from the male to the female during mating.
One of the questions I get asked most frequently is how we get all the butterflies for our pavilion. The short answer is, we buy 'em. This makes the process sound easy and non-time consuming, it is anything but! Months ago, Shawna Joplin, the Museum's Coordinator of Animal Care and Education, started placing orders for butterfly pupae. She works with vendors all over the United States, to ensure that we will have the numbers and diversity we need to achieve a magical butterfly experience.
Last week we received our first pupae shipment. Each vendor sends us about one shipment a week, and each shipment can contain anywhere from 25 to 250 pupae! Every time we get a shipment, the Live Animal Program staff have to inspect each individual pupa and then prepare it for emergence. Some pupae get pinned and hung in our emergence case, whereas others can rest on the bottom of case. Twice a day this case is inspected and all healthy adult butterflies are removed and then released in the pavilion.