Butterfly Chrysalises

The chrysalis can be considered the most mysterious stage in the metamorphosis of a butterfly. Chrysalises are the pupal form of the butterfly that follows directly after the larval (caterpillar) stage. Chrysalises are often mistakenly referred to as “cocoons.” Cocoons are actually the silk casing that some moths (and a few other insects) construct around their naked pupa.

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When a caterpillar pupates, it sheds its skin to reveal the chrysalis (pupa) underneath.

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A cocoon is the silk covering a moth creates around its pupa. In this photo the cocoon is cut away to reveal the pupa inside.

The word chrysalis originates from the greek word, chrysós (χρυσός) for gold. The term is derived from the metallic or gold coloration found on many chrysalises. Some are even completely gold! 

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Tithorea tarricina butterflies have a chrysalis that is almost entirely gold.

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Mechanitis polymnia also have very gold chrysalises.

Although the chrysalis may seem like a “resting” stage, it is not that at all. A lot is happening! As the caterpillar molts its final time to form the chrysalis, it releases enzymes that essentially cause its body to “melt” into a butterfly goo. Inside the chrysalis, specific clumps of cells called imaginal discs remain intact and direct the formation of specific tissues and body parts such as wings, antennae, and certain organs using the protein and nutrient-rich goo all around them. Slowly, the butterfly goo is transformed into the complete body of an adult butterfly.

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National Geographic scanned chrysalises to observe the development of butterflies.

Although the pupal stage is a non-mobile stage in the process of metamorphosis, many chrysalises can in fact wiggle and move. Certain species have a jointed abdominal segment that allows the chrysalis to wiggle in response to touch or movement. It is thought to be an instinctive response to repel or discourage predators or parasitoids.  

One of the most spectacular aspects of chrysalises is the huge variance in appearance. Some have wildly effective camouflage, others are bright and eye-catching, some are smooth and glassy while others are sharp and spiky. 

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Vindula dejone have a bright elaborate chrysalis with gold spots.

Nympahlis antiopa has a sharp, spiky chrysalis.

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Acraea violae has a smooth, slim, contrasting chrysalis.  Photo © Horace Tan

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Papilio zelicaon have two color morphs to better camouflage their chrysalis.

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Euploea mulciber is another butterfly with a beautiful, metallic chrysalis. Photo © Horace Tan

Some butterflies will use a silk girdle to attach the chrysalis to a twig like this Pachliopta aristolochiae.  Photo © Horace Tan

At the Cockrell Butterfly Center we receive hundreds of chrysalises from around the world weekly. Opening the boxes to reveal the variety of pupae nestled in cotton is akin to Christmas. Each chrysalis will be carefully glued up in a natural hanging position. After a few days the adult butterfly will make its appearance and leave only the dry, shriveled shell of the chrysalis behind marking the end of the pupal stage. 

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The shell of an empty chrysalis after the butterfly has emerged.

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Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 7/25-7/31

Last week’s featured #HMNSBlockParty creation is by Brianna (age: 8): 

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Want to get your engineering handwork featured? Drop by our Block Party interactive play area and try your own hand building a gravity-defying masterpiece. Tag your photos with #HMNSBlockParty.

Behind-the-Scenes – Cabinet of Curiosities
Tuesday, July 26
6:00 p.m.
Cabinets of curiosities were collections of extraordinary objects which attempted to categorise and tell stories about the wonders and oddities of the natural world. These collections of extraordinary natural and manmade objects were displayed in cabinets with many compartments, each filled with “treasures” reflecting man’s desire to find his place within the larger context of nature and the divine. Many of these collections eventually became the first public museums. In this special after-hours event, master docents with colorful commentary and extraordinary stories will guide you through this exhibit, which contains thousands of extraordinary natural and manmade objects nestled in countless nooks and crannies, just waiting to be discovered. Ignite your curiosity with a tour of the wonder-filled Cabinets of Curiosities exhibit, and discover the treasures that await.

Behind-the-Scenes – Terrestrial Life Debuts
Tuesday, July 26
6:00 p.m.
Because the Morian Hall of Paleontology is too large to tour in one evening, we are debuting a new series that will cover the hall section by section. Led by HMNS staff trainer, James Washington, each tour will include a hands-on fossil experience or short classroom presentation. When life came out of the water and conquered land, our witnesses are the armor-headed amphibians like “boomerang-headed” Diplocaulus. You’ll meet the root of our own human family tree in the fabulous fin-backed reptile, Dimetrodon, apex predator of the Texas Permian, 300 million years ago. Catastrophic die-offs at the end of the Permian Period (250 million years ago) exterminated most of the dominant life forms-but the empty niches welcomed new clans of dynamic creatures. Reptiles seized control of the terrestrial realm. Giant croc-oids dug tubers, munched leaves and attacked each other. By 200 million years ago, crocodile descendants-the first dinosaurs-were expanding their influence.

Lecture – Prehistorical Perspectives on Amazonian Life by Dirk Van Tuerenhout
Wednesday, July 27
6:30 p.m.
When we think of the Amazon region, we imagine dense forest, exotic animal life, and sweltering temperatures. We also assume that this landscape has been around for thousands of years. Recent discoveries, made from the air and on the ground, now suggest that portions of the Amazonian rainforest looked very different just 500 years ago. HMNS curator of anthropology Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout will review some of these discoveries and what they tell us about the scope and impact of prehistoric human presence in the Amazon region.

Summer Cockrell Butterfly Center Events 
Summer Cockrell Butterfly Center events continue through Aug. 19.

  • Wing It | Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m.
    Come fly away into the world of butterflies at the Cockrell Butterfly Center with Wing it! Introduce yourself to your favorite winged wonders and watch the release of hundreds of new butterflies into the rainforest.
  • Small Talk | Wednesdays at 11 a.m.
    Join our Cockrell Butterfly Center team as they take their live collection of insects out “for a walk” during Small Talk. Our experts will entertain and educate with all types of insects and arachnids.
  • Friday Feeding Frenzy | Fridays at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. & 11:30 a.m.
    Join us this morning in the Cockrell Butterfly Center for our Friday Feeding Frenzy! See science in action as snakes, spiders and centipedes enjoy a meal right in front of you!
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Summer Trunk Shows: A Touch of Sparkle from Lankford and Tummino

One of our favorite things about summer has arrived — Summer Trunk Shows! This year we’re keeping it simple and local, featuring Rebecca Lankford July 22 and Mirta Tummino on Aug. 5, both from 12 to 4 p.m.

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Locally-renowned Houston artist Rebecca Lankford uses hand-cast metals, fine leathers, and a casual take on precious and semi-precious gems to create effortlessly stylish jewels. Her delicate styles are perfect alone and for layering and stacking.

Rebecca has also created an exclusive museum collection for HMNS using gems hand-picked by our buyers. Each piece is one-of-a-kind or limited in production.

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Leaving corporate America behind, native Texan Mirta Tummino realized her true calling when she began designing jewelry. With an eye for color, Mirta combines unusual gemstones to create her signature wire-wrapped designs.

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If that alone doesn’t convince you to attend our trunk show here are three reasons why you should:

1. Locally-made, handcrafted jewelry. Handmade pieces make unique gifts for others or yourself, all while supporting local artists.

2. A chance to meet the designer and team. Learn all about the gems, materials, and the creative process directly from the artist. Rebecca and Mirta are both inspired by the museum’s gem and mineral collection.

3. Jewelry with savings! Shop with a 20 percent discount in addition to your membership discount. Feel good about looking great knowing that 100 percent of museum store and trunk show proceeds benefits HMNS’s educational programs.

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HMNS Xplorations Interns Share Wisdom (and Laughs)

All of us in the Youth Education Programs department at the Houston Museum of Natural Science started as volunteers, part-time, or interns. We all came from different backgrounds, departments and experiences. The thing we have in common (other than we each bring our own flavor of nerd to the department) is that we all got hooked. We have a joke that the museum sucks people in. There’s something addicting about this unique and totally weird workplace where asking things like “Did someone move the tiger I put in the freezer?” elicits a response of “Wait, which tiger and which freezer?” Each year, we bring in a new cohort and give them a chance to get sucked into the wonderful world of HMNS. It takes a village to operate our Xplorations summer camps, and our interns are an integral part of our team. This summer, we’re highlighting our entourage of interns. Each group is responsible for a different aspect of our summer programs. Read below for their interesting take on what it’s like to work during the busiest 11 weeks of the year for Youth Education Programs!

Xplorations Interns

Collections Crew

Our collections interns are responsible for making sure all of the camp classes have the supplies they need. In other words, they’re in charge of the “stuff.” Education Collections is kind of like the Room of Requirement from the Harry Potter series. If someone comes in and starts a sentence with “Do you have…,” the response is almost always going to be “Yes.” Live leeches? Got ’em. Sheep brains? Yep. Cut out of a life-sized T. rex footprint? Of course. Chenille worms? Always. Spectrum tubes? Absolutely. Anatomically correct dinosaurs? You betcha.

Sara Hayes, Before Camp Coordinator, Texas A&M

What is one thing that you now find totally reasonable that was unthinkable before? Mummifying potatoes. The kids in Mummies and Mysteries do this to learn about the ancient Egyptian practice of mummification.

When people ask about your summer, what do you immediately think of?

Making a Jell-O brain for kids to eat as part of the Weird Science camp.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve overhead at camp? I once heard a camper say, “My favorite part of camp is digesting eyeballs.” They meant to say that their favorite part of camp is dissecting eyeballs.

Olivia Close, After Camp Coordinator, University of Dallas

What new and unusual vocabulary have you discovered this summer? Axolotl and atlatl. We have a pair of axolotls, a type of amphibian, as part of our live animal collection. The campers in Archeology 101 practice using atlatls, a spear-throwing tool, while they learn about ancient civilizations.

What’s the most unusual use of an everyday item you’ve seen this summer? Recycling items like old CDs and egg cartons are used to make lungs, cars, robots, rockets and so much more!

Allison Walker, Xplorations Resource Coordinator, University of Texas at Austin

What’s your favorite fun story you tell your friends and family? I tell them about the time I was casually asked to carry two real human skulls down the hall to the Crime Scene Investigators camp.   

What is one thing that you now find totally reasonable that was unthinkable before? Keeping bags and bags of butterfly wings in the freezer.

Jayme Schlimper, Camp Assistant Coordinator, University of Houston

What work story has created the greatest look of horror on your family and friend’s faces? I forgot that I placed a bag of sheep brains on top of a box and went to grab them later…To my surprise, I got a handful of sheep brains.

What’s your favorite fun fact you tell to impress your friends? I love asking them about T. rex arms! “Want to know why they’re so tiny?” Immediate intrigue.

 

Animal Wranglers

Our animal care interns are responsible for taking care of our extensive live animal collection during the summer. They do rounds with our Get Set to be a Vet camp as campers learn what it takes to care for different types of animals from amphibians to reptiles to mammals. They also do live animal presentations for many of our camps as campers learn about animal adaptations. It involves a lot of snuggling scaly critters and all of the smells. All of them.

Kelsey Williams, Animal Care Intern, Hendrix College

What new and unusual vocabulary have you discovered this summer? Nebulize. We had to learn how to nebulize one of the snakes. A nebulizer is used to administer medicine in the form of a mist, so it can be inhaled into the lungs.

What’s your favorite animal you’ve worked with this summer? Leu the leucistic rat snake, because he will hang out around your waist like a snake belt.

Holly Hansel, Animal Care Intern, University of Texas

What after-work story has created the greatest look of horror on your family and friend’s faces? My job encourages me to handle alligators, tarantulas and snakes. And I love it.

What is one thing that you now find totally reasonable that was unthinkable before? I accept the fact that animals can and will poop on me. Additionally, I can use an animal’s poop as a learning accessory during class presentations.

Lizzy George, Animal Care Intern, Ohio State University

When people ask how your summer’s going, what do you immediately think of? I think about how fun it is to chill with and take care of the almost 75 animals we have here at the museum.

What is one thing that you now find totally reasonable that was unthinkable before? Letting a tarantula crawl on me.

 

Health Squad

Our healthcare interns have the lofty and important task of ensuring each camper has a health form on file. They’re also responsible for managing medications and making sure any health concerns are passed along to our teachers.

Aida Iriarte, Healthcare Intern, Purdue University

What’s the funniest thing you’ve overhead at camp? A teacher came in with a camper and said, “We’re looking for a pink dinosaur…”

What’s your favorite story that you tell to impress your friends? I love telling them about the one time a camper told me I reminded her of Beyoncé.

Cristian Cruz, Healthcare Intern, University of Texas at Austin

What’s the funniest thing you’ve overhead at camp? Someone came into our office and said, “The sign on the door says the kids are at macaroni?” This was in reference to a trip our Backstage Pass class takes to our offsite storage facility, called Marconi. 

What new and unusual vocabulary have you discovered this summer? Using the word “snake” as an insult as in “You’re a snake.” We had a camper who regularly used this as an insult.

If you’re interested in becoming a part of our summer camp team, keep an eye out for job postings on the careers page on the HMNS web site. Xplorations positions are typically posted in December for the following summer.

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