Northwest NEWS

January 4, 1999


Butterflies and insects featured at Ackerley Family Exhibit Gallery

Blue Morphos

The new Tropical Butterfly House at Pacific Science Center features a rotating variety of free-flying exotic butterflies, including Blue Morphos (pictured) from Costa Rica.
Photo courtesy of Pacific Science Center.

bronzed caterpillar

A young visitor to the new Insect Village at the Ackerley Family Exhibit relaxes on the back of a giant bronzed caterpillar designed by Northwest artist Georgia Gerber.
Photo by Dani Weiss.

by Deborah Stone

   The Tropical Butterfly House and Insect Village, two permanent exhibits, premiered December 26 in the Pacific Science Center's new Ackerley Family Exhibit Gallery.

   Outside, the bitter winds might be howling, but inside the Tropical Butterfly House, the temperature is a comfortable eighty degrees and the humidity near eighty percent. Two glass walls and a skylight maximize natural sunlight, and there are also 5,000 to 7,000 foot-candles of full spectrum artificial light, twelve hours per day. A computerized climate control system monitors heating, cooling, and lighting.

   Visitors are surrounded by tropical flora as they walk along a garden path gazing at nearly 1,000 colorful and exotic butterflies from all over the world fluttering freely around them. Vibrant Blue Morphos from Costa Rica, Peacock Pansies from Malaysia, Paper Kites from the Philippines, Gold-Banded Foresters from Kenya, and many other species of butterflies, as well as some moths, inhabit the Tropical Butterfly House.

   The exhibit provides information on metamorphosis, mimicry, and tropical rainforests, as well as allowing visitors to watch new butterflies and moths emerge from their chrysalises and cocoons through a window in the Emerging Room.

   The butterflies for this exhibit are bred in captivity and come from tropical butterfly farms, often in developing countries. Trees, shrubs and flowering plants, mostly native to Central America, were selected to provide a natural habitat for the butterflies.

   Visitors will be fascinated with observing the behavior of the butterflies as they flit from bush to shrub to dishes of fruit in their quest for food. The variation in wing color is dramatic, making it relatively easy to distinguish the different species, using the illustrated guide provided by the staff.

   Due to the sensitive nature of this exhibit and the spatial confines, crowds will be limited and controlled to allow ample viewing opportunities.

   Next door to the Tropical Butterfly House, visitors can explore the Insect Village, where several entomology subjects are covered in a fun, interactive way.

   There are structures that different bugs use for their homes, including a termite mound, anthill, and a living bee hive and an insect zoo where visitors can touch live hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, giant centipedes, and look closely at a hairy tarantula.

   In the Insecta Sideshow circus tent, familiar insects are featured with an emphasis on their amazing attributes. Fleas are shown as champion jumpers, ants have Herculean strength, fireflies use their flashes of light (caused by a chemical reaction) to identify themselves and attract mates, the aqua-beetle has its own portable air supply when it dives underwater for food, and a type of moth, the io, has owl-like eye spots on its rear wings to confuse or startle its predators when they get too close.

   Nearby is the Wall of Fame which displays awards for extreme adaptations in the insect world. In an entomologist's tent, visitors can learn the basics of the study of insects, including anatomy, life cycles, and development, as well as learn about insect family trees and the scientific and common names of insects.

   A group of freestanding interactive stations detail anatomy, senses, and behavior of insects, and three giant robotics give visitors a larger-than-life view of two insects and an arthropod.

   Both the Tropical Butterfly House and Insect Village greatly enhance the permanent exhibits at the Pacific Science Center and will be extremely popular with visitors of all ages. They are exciting, informative, and provide many opportunities for hands-on learning.