You Can Be A Citizen Scientist In Our Tropical Butterfly House
Cit-i-zen Sci-ence: (noun) the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.
Even though the Living Exhibits Department at Pacific Science Center provides fruit, sugar water, and other options for our butterflies, most of their food is the nectar from the exhibit flowers. If we choose the plants in our Tropical Butterfly House wisely, then they will have abundant access to nectar, making them happier, healthier, and longer lived.
Our Tropical Butterfly House hosts over one hundred butterfly species, and currently has over a hundred plant species. While we have some ideas about which flowers the butterflies like, we can’t have our eyes on every corner of the butterfly house at every hour of the day, and we haven’t found a way to observe them all. Flowering plants come in many shapes and sizes, as do butterflies’ preferences and proboscises (mouth parts), so it takes a bit of matchmaking to ensure that we have the right flowers for the right butterflies.
These factors seemed like the perfect opportunity to start a Citizen Science project, and we turned to our guests for help observing.
On April 1 of this year, we put three signs in our Tropical Butterfly House asking guests to take photos of butterflies drinking from plants and upload these pictures to Twitter or Instagram with the tag #citizensci. Our goal was to track the most featured plant, the most featured butterfly, and the strongest relationship between a butterfly and a plant (AKA most photographed together). Since then, we have excitedly checked our social media accounts every day to see which butterfly and plant connections were shared. So far we have had over a hundred submissions. In those photo submissions, there have been eighteen butterfly species captured on fourteen different plant species, and although it’s early in our study, we have picked up on some obvious contenders for most featured butterfly, most preferred plant species, and strongest relationship between butterfly and plant. So far, the most featured butterfly is the Scarlet Peacock (Anartia amathea). During this study the Scarlet Peacock has been observed drinking from three different plants, but it clearly has a favorite flower because there are thirty-two photographs of it on the Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milli) flower.
The Crown of Thorns is also currently the most photographed plant. Nine species, including the Scarlet Peacock, have been photographed enjoying their flowers. So while we think that the relationship between the Scarlet Peacock and Crown of Thorns flower must be very strong, we also think that it might just be a popular nectar for many species. Next time you visit our Tropical Butterfly House, look around for some butterflies drinking nectar. If you find one, snap a photo and be sure to share them to Twitter or Instagram tagged #citizensci. We are excited to see more of your photos, and it will help us to decide which plants we should propagate throughout the exhibit. Click here if you’d like to view the spreadsheet we’re using to track these results.