Rotting Fruit and Puddle Parties: Check out the Butterfly Pavilion!

April 6, 2012

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.

Mourning Cloak butterfly sucking up liquefied rotten fruittasty!

Shawna Joplin and Lydia Gotcher working in the Butterfly PavilionWe'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 sugarnutrients 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.

Puddle party pads! Look very closely in the yellow circle and you can see a Buckeye, Junonia coenia, feeding.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.

Emergence case with emerging sulphurs and monarchs

Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor, pupa. Look at those colors!Come by and check out the Butterfly Pavilion! For ticketing information visit our website.

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Last week Sam got an awesome package in the mail, our new camera trap! On Monday afternoon he set it up behind the Butterfly Pavilion to see if it worked. We were also curious to see if we'd capture any interesting images. Boy were we in for a surprise!Night 1: Monday pm-Tuesday am

Our first cat tail caught on camera! We've known for a long time about the feral cats, Felis catus, that live in Exposition Park, but we weren't expecting to capture one of them on camera so quickly.

Just over an hour later this Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, sidled into view. Again we knew they were around as we'd seen their tracks in the mud.Night 2: Wednesday pm-Thursday am

When Sam showed me this picture, I was blown away! I definitely wasn't expecting the trap to capture a juvenile Cooper's Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, in this space. I am very curious to know why it landed here, was it chasing a rat or a mouse, or did it just feel like posing?

I'm pretty sure this is the same cat as in the first image. If it is the same cat, it obviously goes on the prowl after dark. Maybe we'll have to move the camera trap to the bird feeders next time. 

Here's another view of an Opossum. We can't be sure if it is the same one, or if there's a family that lives in the park. There's a possibility that there's a den under the shed. I think we'll have to investigate.

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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New Neighbors     A pair of Bushtits, Psaltriparus minimus, just built their nest in the live oak tree behind the Butterfly Pavilion. Kimball Garrett, our resident bird expert, found the nest this Monday and promptly sent me an e-mail detailing the nest's location. As soon as I got into work on Tuesday morning, I headed out to the Butterfly Pavilion to check it out.      

Adult Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus   Nest Hunt   Thankfully Kimball had given clear instructions to find the nest, as it was very well hidden in the oak foliage. The effort was well worth it, as it was one of the coolest nests I've ever seen in the wild. As the picture below shows their nests are woven from dry plant material and hang from branches of the tree. They are small and dainty, this one measures about seven inches from top to bottom. The small opening at the top of the nest, which is only about an inch in diameter, is just big enough for the adults to enter and exit.      

Bushtit entering nest   Bushtit Behavior After spending a good portion of my morning watching the nest, I realized I had to blog about it. But what is a blog without images, or even better some actual video footage. I ran up to my colleague, Sam Easterson's office to see if he could get some for me. Sam recorded the nest for about an hour, and we captured some interesting behaviors, including removal of fecal sacs! A fecal sac is clean, tough membrane that encloses the excrement of young birds. Not all birds produce fecal sacs, but for those that do sacs are usually produced directly after each feeding and promplty removed by the adult to maintain a clean nest interior.                Bushtit cleaning nest   Sam Easterson is a video naturalist and also our new Media Producer for the North Campus and Nature Lab exhibits. He's really into implanting cameras into natural environments, and is best known for his animal borne imaging work.

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Inter-whats? Interactives are what we at the Museum call cool gizmos and hands-on experiences in exhibits. We are planning to have some really great outdoor interactives in the North Campus. Right now we are getting ready to test prototypes in the Butterfly Pavilion yard. I'll post more about them when the Pavilion goes live on April 8, but as a teaser, check out this article posted on LA County Board of Supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky's website.

This is the first round prototype of our proposed Butterfly Counter. Stay tuned for the version that visitors will try out in the Butterfly Pavilion.

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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