Adopt A Butterfly – tomorrow!

Standing in the serenity of our tropical atrium with butterflies floating all around you makes you stop, breathe, and brings a sense of relaxation that is indescribable. Truly, a feeling of peace settles upon you. Like a monk on a mountaintop, your mind goes to calming memories; mine are of my mother. She used to sing to me every night  – “You are my Sunshine” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” – her melodic voice filling the room while I, on my mountain of stuffed animals, would contentedly rest on her shoulder, anticipating every note. When I was little, she would hold my hand at the doctor’s office, read me stories whenever she could, and put giant ridiculous bows in my hair (hey, it was the 80s!) There weren’t cell phones, so quality time was ALL the time – and I couldn’t get enough of her smiles and attention. To this day, she’s my guide, my mentor, and my role model. I am lucky to say that she’s also my best friend.

dsc01412The butterflies always remind me of her, because of their vibrant colors and their graceful ways. They seem so fleeting, yet they are always around. We are lucky in Houston to have them almost year round.

When you come to Adopt a Butterfly this Saturday and hold that delicate life in your hand - you are a mother or a father. You are bringing that beautiful butterfly to its new home and giving it a wonderful life. You also are contributing to the continuation of butterflies in the center. You should bring your Mom, too. I bet those little delicate butterflies remind her of you – and memories of the past and those yet to come.

Adopt a Butterfly will be held this Saturday from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Crafts, face painting, and of course, butterflies, will be there waiting for you.

Adopt A Butterfly – this Saturday

Perched
Creative Commons License photo credit: bensonkua

It’s easy to love the feeling of walking into the Cockrell Butterfly Center. As you take your first step inside, you’re ensconsed in the warmth of the air and the comforting blanket of humidity…well, as a native Houstonian, perhaps I find that feeling more comforting than most.  

As you skim over your surroundings, you’ll see flowers the size of your monitor, vines as thick as your keyboard, and the most inviting non-yellow brick road you’ve ever seen. Butterflies from all over the world aimlessly fly around you and it hits you like a ton of bricks that now is the time to relax and take life at a slower pace. After 10 minutes of pure relaxation, you finally start poking around the place and finding the most curious things: butterfly host plants holding cocoons and caterpillars, creeping vines crawling up two floors of glass walls to soak up the light, and the splash of the waterfall which causes tiny droplets of water to spray upwards while the butterflies dance on them. All of these things make up the rhythm of life within the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

Now, it’s your chance to participate in that rhythm. For a contribution of $15, you can release a butterfly into the Center and become a butterfly parent. Your contribution helps to pay for butterfly and insect food, for weeds to be cut back, for new plants and insect species to be introduced, and for the upkeep of our greenhouse – a safe haven for butterflies and plants until they are mature enough to reach the Center. You are also contributing to HMNS’ ability to provide you and all of our visitors with the latest information and research about these incredible creatures.

Frittilary
Creative Commons License photo credit: Lida Rose

Adopt A Butterfly

Join us this Saturday (October 11, 2008) from 9 am until 2 pm in the Cockrell Butterfly Center for your chance to release a young butterfly into its new home. Adopt A Butterfly tickets can be purchased online or at the door for $15. Receive your butterfly to be released in the Center, your adoption certificate, your name on our web site as a Butterfly Parent, and a small commemorative gift for your donation.

While you’re here, participate in our crafts and activities! Houston Holocaust Museum is spreading awareness of The Butterfly Project here at HMNS. Find out more at their web site and learn how you can help.

These are a few of my favorite things

Well, it’s been a year since the grand reopening of the Cockrell Butterfly Center and what a year it’s been.  We had an awesome opening last May with a whole weekend full of fun and excitment.  

Soon after the opening we had “Adopt A Butterfly” and a swarm of Ecoteens.  (Ecoteens are wonderful young volunteers that can always be found somewhere in the museum in the summer time.)  We also shared our newly renovated exhibit with all of our docents with an exciting week of docent training.  

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Me lounging on a GIANT spicebush
swallowtail caterpillar

With all the hard work that went into redoing the exhibit, it was great to hear all the compliments from our docents and patrons.  I have talked to many guests that come back regularly to see their favorite parts of the exhibit and it’s always interesting to hear what they like, so I thought that I would share my favorite parts with you.

The huge spicebush swallowtail caterpillar that greets everyone at the very beginning of the exhibit is probably my favorite sculpture.  I got to see this go from a hunk of foam to a plain colored caterpillar to the wonderful masterpiece it is today.  It is so fun to see kids and adults posing with the caterpillar – what a great way to start off the exhibit.

I promise I am not going to go through the whole exhibit but my second favorite part is the hallway leading up to the Brown Hall of Entomology.  The colors are so bold and I still find myself in awe when I walk up and down the stairs.  

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There is also a section of the hall that displays how wonderful ants are at building their homes.  There are three casts of actual ant nests displayed with a video of how they were made.  (CBS News recently did a great story on the man who developed this casting process; you can see it here by clicking on “The Secret World of Ants.”) It’s pretty cool to see the structure of the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, nest and how many tunnels they have. 

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A lifesize cast of an anthill and all the tunnels

Beetles, aka Coleoptera, are a main part of our exhibit because one out of four living animals on earth is a beetle!  There is a beautiful preserved beetle display showing specimens from some of the major beetle families.  I think I’m partial to this section because Erin and I spent hours sorting through our beetle collection. 

A few days before the grand reopening we both spent A LOT of time planning and actually putting together this wonderful beetle display.  We have a quiz game hosted by a very southern dung beetle that is probably the most popular interactive section of the Entomology Hall.  I love this game because it gives visitors a chance to get a bit competitive with their friends and learn cool stuff about Arthropods at the same time. 

I would really love to share with you everything that is in the Entomology Hall, but I will give you the chance to come see it youself. 

We did not change much inside of the actual rainforest, but we did get an observation bee hive.  I have to say that this is super cool and I sometimes find myself spending a lot of time watching it.  This is probably one of Nancy’s favorite parts of the exhibit.  She has even taking up backyard beekeeping herself. 

Another thing about the rainforest that is brand new are the butterfly charts.  You can borrow one of these when you go into the exhibit to help you identify the butterflies. 

The last part of the exhibit is downstairs where the old insect zoo used to be.  My absolute favorite part about this area is the “beneficial insects” game.  It’s kinda goofy, but lots of fun and I’ve seen so many kids begging their parents to stay so they can play longer. 

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Another part of this area that I really enjoy is the “eating insects as food” section.  To see the look on peoples faces when they realize that the vending machine in front of them doesn’t have the normal stuff but instead has bugs to eat is priceless! 

I hope you enjoyed my favorite things and remember that I just touched the surface of what we have to offer.  I hope that if you haven’t had the chance to come check out our one year old renovated exhibit you will come soon.  I would also like to hear back from you guys as to what some of your favorite things are!

Mom, where do butterflies come from?

One of the most common questions we get asked is “Where do all these butterflies come from?”  So, I thought I would let you guys know!

It all starts off with a butterfly farm.  We order from 8 different farms outside of the U.S.:  El Bosque Nuevo and Spirogyra in Costa Rica, Heliconius Butterfly Works in Ecuador, Bioproductores in El Salvador, Neotropical Insects NV in Suriname, Flora Farm and Ma Corona Butterfly Culture in the Philippines, and Tropical Entomological House in Malaysia.  We also order from two farms in Florida, Butterfly Dan’s and Greathouse Butterfly Farm.  We have been using most of these farms since our opening in June, 1994. 

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The largest, toughest chrysalids are packed on the bottom.

 On Saturdays and Sundays, the farms pack up the chrysalids (pupae) and prepare to send them to us and other butterfly houses throughout the world.  

Most suppliers pack up their pupae with lots of cotton and tissue.  They start with a layer of cotton on the bottom of a box.  This layer usually holds the largest of pupae, Morpho peleides or Caligo spp.  Since these pupae are packed very close together they are wrapped in cotton or tissue.  A new layer of cotton is added next, usually with swallowtail pupae because their chrysalids are tough.  Once the layering gets to more fragile pupae, Heliconius spp., Tithorea spp.,  Myscelia cyaniristhey are more spread out. 

Once all the pupae are in the box, that box goes into another box and everything is all sealed up.  Believe it or not, butterflies are considered to be agricultural pests – so there is a lot of paper work on the suppliers’ end that they have to fill out before they are allowed to ship it out of their country.  In addition, they have to have copies of paperwork from us.  Each supplier must attach at copy of our USDA permit to the package plus a special red and white label that acts as a flag for the USDA once the box gets in the U.S.  

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Here, the chrysalids are organized by type.

All of the suppliers ship off pupae to us on Mondays.  When the box arrives in Miami, FL (Central/South American suppliers) or Hawthorne, CA (Asian suppliers) the red and white label lets workers know that the box needs to be inspected after customs clears it.  On a good week this takes no time at all, and I receive the package on Wednesday or Thursday.  I am still happy if I get it on Friday, but I get a little testy if it comes on Saturday or even the next Monday.  It is very important that I get the pupae the week they are sent because if I do not, the butterflies will start to emerge and that’s just a mess.

So, once the pupae are delivered to our loading dock I get the much awaited phone call of their arrival.  I get about 3-5 shipments a week with anywhere from 200 – 450 pupae in each. 

I keep inventory of all the pupae we receive with an awesome computer program that a colleague gave me.  While unpacking the pupae, I check off all the species we get and make note of any missing or extra butterflies. 

Then, I glue all the pupae from smallest to largest onto a large foam board, which will hang up in our hatcheries, that are on display in the entomology exhibits outside our main butterfly conservatory – so you can see the beginning of the butterfly life cycle any time you visit us. 

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Ready to hang in our exhibition.

Every species of butterfly on a board is labeled with a number.  That number can be typed into a computer screen in front of the hatcheries and information about that species will pop up.  Once all the work is done, it is a game of sit-and-wait.  It takes about 2 weeks for all the butterflies to emerge from one board.  Once this happens, I take the board down, take note of any butterflies that did not emerge, clean it off and prepare it for the next shipment. 

Next time you’re here, make sure to stop by the hatchery area and check out all the chrysalids hanging; you may even get to see a butterfly hatch! 

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These butterflies are emerging today; when their wings dry, they
will be ready to be released into the butterfly conservatory.

Speaking of butterflies hatching, have you ever wanted to release a butterfly yourself?  Your chance is coming up very soon!  On May 10th, come on down to the Cockrell Butterfly Center and Adopt A Butterfly.   Receive an adoption certificate, a commemorative gift, and your name listed on our website as one of our butterfly parents!