Bell peppers, bananas and beer: the Cockrell Butterfly Center’s Grocery List

Take a look at this list. You are probably thinking, “ok, someone’s shopping list, so what?“. What if I told you that most of these things are not even for human consumption, but for butterflies, reptiles, and other various insects? You’d probably think I’m crazy! Well, you’re not alone.

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Have you ever bought Guinness at 8:00 am on a weekday? Or had a ton of produce rung up leading the cashier to comment “wow, aren’t you healthy!“, only to reply, “oh, it’s not for me, it’s for bugs.” Yeah, they all think we’re crazy! These are the realities of our weekly grocery shopping for the Cockrell Butterfly Center

The truth is that it costs us $150-$200 a month at the local HEB to keep our butterflies, bugs, iguanas, and tortoises well fed and happy. And yes, our butterflies drink beer, and not just your run of the mill pilsner, it’s gotta be the good stuff! Actually, we feed our butterflies an appetizing mixture of overripe bananas, brown sugar, and dark beer. We use Guinness because it’s not pasteurized, so it contains the bacteria goodness that ensures the butterflies’ preferred level of fermentation. Yummy! Our nectar feeding butterflies get pumped up on Amino Fuel, which is a supplement that can be found on the health food/vitamin isle. We add it to our nectar bowls (a mixture of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar) to give the butterflies a little more protein. Many of them would feed on pollen, or even feces in the wild to get additional protein in their diet. 

Oh, and butterflies are so high maintenance. The laundry detergent, it’s mostly to wash our “butterfly diapers”. When our butterflies emerge, they squirt out the remains of their last meal as a caterpillar. It’s called meconium and it’s quite messy. We use white towels to soak it up and they have to be laundered every week!

We have a lot of vegetarians around here too. Two iguanas, 3 tortoises, and A LOT of bugs. Grasshoppers, millipedes, beetles, and tons of cockroaches! I wonder how the people at the store would look at me if I told them that at least 50% of that produce is going to feed cockroaches. 

Finally, there are SOME humans in our office that do require just a few things to keep us going while we’re running around feeding all of these animals. Also, all of those humans are females, so we need to keep the coffee and chocolate well stocked!

Road Trip!

Many people come to our Museum for a visit.  In fact, last year, we had over 2.5 million visits. But have you ever had a museum come to you for a visit?  Well, the Houston Museum of Natural Science can do that, too!  The Museum has several different outreach programs where we bring specimens to students for some hands-on learning. 

Recently the Museum brought its El Paso Corporation Wildlife on Wheels to Kipp (Knowledge is Power Program) Dream Elementary School. In this picture, you can see some of the specimens used during our Reptiles and Amphibians topic. Snake skin, tortoise shells, fossil casts (center), coprolites and even caiman skin are valuable teaching tools and definitely more portable and safer than a large, live caiman!

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In this picture below you can see some of the cutest kindergartners touching a Surinam Toad. They were very attentive and while some were nervous, most were very excited. They were also practicing safe touching technique: two finger touch, sitting “criss-cross-applesauce”, and as I learned that day, “with their spoons in their bowl” (meaning hands in their lap). The toad was pretty good too.

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Here you see a Savannah Monitor behaving himself so that the children could touch him. If you have ever worked with a monitor, that is saying something! No hesitation here, these kindergartners were ready to touch the lizard even though he was big. Behind me in the photo is a good view of the table setup for that day. All of the specimens are something the children can touch like the crocodile skull, unless of course it is fragile enough to be in a jar or behind glass like the snake skeleton in the back.

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At the end of the presentation, the children have the opportunity to come past the table and touch the specimen I had been using as part of the discussion. Here you can see the interest on their faces as they touch real crocodile teeth (without the risk of a bite!), a tortoise shell, and with only a little hesitation, fossilized dinosaur dung! This is often where I wonder what they are thinking: should I really touch poop, or would my head fit inside the croc’s mouth?

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We don’t know who had more fun during El Paso Corporation’s Wildlife on Wheels…the students or the animals!  For more information on the Museum’s Outreach Programs, visit http://www.hmns.org/education/teachers/outreach_programs.asp.