Cataloging Our Butterflies

by | Sep 1, 2015

At any given time, there might be thirty to fifty species of butterfly in Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House. Over the course of a year we get around 170 different species from Central and South America, Asia and occasionally Africa.

To help our guests find some of their favorite butterflies, we provide laminated picture guides. Unfortunately, in planning the guides we had to make some choices. Do we make a huge guide with all our species? Do we just show the highlights? What if a really cool new species comes along and we’ve already printed out our guides?

Ultimately, we decided to use our guides to show off butterflies our guests are very likely to see during a visit, rather than trying to fit in everything there might ever be. For most people, this is not a problem. They enjoy their visit, identify some butterflies, and simply observe others.

But for our guests who want to know more, it can be frustrating. People will often send us photos of butterflies they saw while visiting and need help identifying. Often the pictures are lacking some of the detail we need, and the person’s recollections are important in determining what they saw.

Our goal is to load up photos of every species we ever get onto our website. The species could be searched by a variety of criteria – color, wing shape, size, types of marking. But for this to work, we need excellent photos that clearly demonstrate the features that make each species unique. Depending on their species, butterflies come in all colors and combinations, sometimes with very different markings on the two sides of their wings, and a wide range of wing shapes. Add to that, they are often in motion. All of this makes them tempting and frustrating as subjects for a photographer! Many tropical butterfly houses choose to install video camera technology  to help capture the more elusive butteries.

With our new camera, we will start collecting photos of all of our butterflies. Some shots will be out in the exhibit, under natural conditions, to show what the butterflies really look like. Using a quality camera will help us capture details that a phone camera photo simply overlooks.

We will also be able to shoot pictures of butterflies as they dry their wings after emerging from the chrysalis. We have a handful of very similar species in our exhibit. These butterflies have colors that warn off predators, who have learned that they are noxious to eat. Or are they? Some of the species just look like their noxious counterparts. Not only are predators fooled, so are people, but we have high hopes that being able to catch their pictures early on will help us sort them out.