The question I hear most as supervisor of live collections is, “Where do you get all these butterflies?”
Any guest who has marveled at the hundreds of tropical insects flying around our Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden has probably had the thought at some point. Many guests assume we breed butterflies and caterpillars on site, while others ask if we go out and capture adult butterflies in nature ourselves. While I love the idea of spending my days frolicking through a meadow and chasing after butterflies to fill our garden, the real answer is a bit different.
They are shipped to us from farms all over the world as pupae, the life stage between caterpillars and adults.
Pupae (or chrysalids) are the intermediary form between the larval caterpillar and the adult butterfly. It acts as a resting phase for the animal during metamorphosis and is very tough and resilient. They don’t need to feed, drink, or move when they are a chrysalis and that makes it easy to have them shipped. We receive about 200 to 300 new pupae every week, regardless of the season! Why so many?
Adult butterflies are quite short lived, with most species living only two or three weeks. This means we constantly need to replace butterflies as they finish their life cycle. Our pupae come from all around the world where they are raised, often by small family farms. Now with all this talk about chrysalids, you may be wondering: what about cocoons? Cocoons are different; a chrysalis is a layer of the pupa’s body, almost like an outer layer of skin, whereas a cocoon is something separate from the pupa’s body and is spun. Moths will often spin a cocoon to protect their chrysalis.
Time is of the essence when dealing with live animals, so every week our shipment is sent overnight mail, and we eagerly await its arrival. In my next blog post, I will walk you through the process of introducing these chrysalids to the museum’s garden.