Saturday, May 03, 2008

Behold the Butterflies

After Chris and I graduated from college (and after a two month stint in Europe) we moved to downtown Seattle. Chris began work at HighMark and I got a job in the life sciences department of the Pacific Science Center. Read: Animal caretaker/zoo keeper. The work was fun and the people were interesting, quirky, and entertaining. One of my favorite aspects of the job was working in the tropical butterfly house.If you've never been, I highly encourage you to take an afternoon trip down there, especially during the winter months.

But I digress: The butterflies at PSC came to us from farms in Costa Rica, in the form of chrysalids (what most people think [incorrectly] of as the "cocoon"). The butterflies hatch in a special enclosure, are checked for parasites, and are then released into the butterfly house.
Traveling in Belize was such a pleasure because I got to see many of these very same butterflies in the wild. Plus, and here's the great part, I actually could identify them. Hooray for knowing useless information! It made my week. Working at PSC, it was critical to be able to identify species, in adult and chrysalid stages. Of course, I haven't had to tap into that information for almost four years since butterflies aren't part of my daily existance in my current profession. That? Oh yes, why that, my friend, is a phoebis philea, commonly called an orange barred sulphur. How cool is that?!

I think I was also feeling a bit discouraged because, although I love birding, I'm pretty lousy at it. I have poor eyesight, I can't remember important features, and I get confused when looking at the bird book. How the heck am I supposed to tell a social flycatcher from a great kiskidee?! (Seriously, look them up. They're practically identical. The only difference is the brown coloring on the wings). My dad is very good at it and spent the entire trip spotting impossible-to-see avians.

So my solace was in butterfly identification. My proudest moment: When our Belizian guide (and expert birder) started asking me to identify the butterflies fluttering past.

I didn't get many pictures but here are a couple of illustrations (from the Belize Field Guide):

Here are some great photos of butterflies that were taken at the Pacific Science Center. Seriously, I urge you to amble over to Seattle Center for a visit. Catch an IMAX movie and taken in the tropical butterfly house. I hear it's raining up there right now; this would be a perfect time for a visit since they keep it at a lovely tropical temperature and humidity.