News / USA

Exhibit Highlights Butterfly's Beauty, Diversity, Value to Ecosystem

Exhibit Highlights Butterfly's Beauty, Diversity, Value to Ecosystemi
X
March 28, 2013 2:56 PM
As spring makes its slow return to the hemisphere, the Smithsonian Institution's Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C., is marking the occasion with one of its most popular exhibits - the Live Butterfly Pavilion. Now in its fifth year, the Pavilion is a warm, lush enclosure filled with beautiful flowering plants, in which visitors interact with hundreds of live butterflies, representing species from around the world. As VOA's Julie Taboh discovered, it's an exhilarating experience.
As spring makes its slow return to the hemisphere, the Smithsonian Institution's Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C., is marking the occasion with one of its most popular exhibits - the Live Butterfly Pavilion. Now in its fifth year, the Pavilion is a warm, lush enclosure filled with beautiful flowering plants, in which visitors interact with hundreds of live butterflies, representing species from around the world.

Flying Canvases

They are gentle, colorful creatures that move with grace and flair. And in a warm and humid enclosure at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., visitors have a rare opportunity to be immersed in a world filled with hundreds of living butterflies.

The permanent exhibit is an interactive and educational exhibition, titled Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution, which  provides visitors an up-close look at how butterflies and plants have evolved and diversified together for millions of years.

Interactive learning

The "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (VOA/J. Taboh)The "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (VOA/J. Taboh)
x
The "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (VOA/J. Taboh)
The "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (VOA/J. Taboh)
Dan Babbitt, manager of the Insect Zoo and Butterfly Pavilion, said visitors can get very close to the butterflies while learning about their importance in our ecosystem

“What we want to do is connect people to the natural world and we found that using live animals - and insects in particular - is an amazing way to do that,” he said.

Visitors to the Pavilion, on this day, agree. Nine-year-old Ava Canales had a lovely palm-sized Blue Morpho butterfly on her arm.

“I’ve been here before and I just loved the exhibit like when butterflies land on me," she said. "It’s really cool because you don’t get to see that in your backyard.”

And nine-year-old Gunnar Bruce had an Asian butterfly called a Scarlet Mormon land on the back of his head.

“It’s just cool how the butterflies are all over," he said. "I feel like the butterfly really likes me.”

The "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (C. Clark/Smithsonian Institution)The "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (C. Clark/Smithsonian Institution)
x
The "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (C. Clark/Smithsonian Institution)
The "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (C. Clark/Smithsonian Institution)
Butterflies and the environment

Babbitt says butterflies are important to the environment for several reasons.

“One big one is because of pollination," he said. "They will travel from flower to flower, taking pollen from one flower and depositing it into another, enabling that flower to be able to create seeds and disperse. So we wouldn’t have a number of our flowers that we like to look at, and fruit that we like to eat, without the butterfly."

"Butterflies are also important as a food source," he added, "because for a number of birds and other insects, they are either eaten as a butterfly or as the caterpillar.”

Diverse collection

Babbitt says the exhibit contains between 300 and 400 butterflies representing about 50 species - a small fraction of the world's 20,000 known butterfly species.

“We have butterflies from Asia and from Africa, and South and Central America, and here in the United States," he said. "So we display usually about 50 or so different species in the exhibit at any one time."

He said one of the most popular ones on display is the Blue Morpho butterfly from the Amazon region of South America, which has bright blue iridescent wings. "So it’s a large butterfly, and it’s very flashy,” he said.

Seventeen-year-old Kamri Ball, visiting from Texas, was thoroughly enjoying her "up-close and personal" encounter with one of the exhibit's many Blue Morphos.

“It feels great having him on my arm," she said. "He’s like my old friend.  He’s pretty cute!”

The "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (VOA/J. Taboh)The "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (VOA/J. Taboh)
x
The "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (VOA/J. Taboh)
The "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. (VOA/J. Taboh)
A collaborative effort

The butterflies are raised in their countries of origin by butterfly farmers all over the world who nurture them as caterpillars.  Then, once the insects enter the pupae, or chrysalis stage and encase themselves in protective cocoons, they are shipped to the museum.  

Babbitt says they then unpack them and hang them up, and then wait for them to emerge into a butterfly.

"Then we release them into the exhibit,” he said.

Babbitt said that while there aren't any endangered butterflies in the Smithsonian’s exhibit, many species - such as the Monarch - are in decline.

“That’s something that we really need to watch out for and really focus on," he said. "The issues of deforestation and the use of pesticides and just general land management issues, to make sure that we can provide for these butterflies.”

He added that it's not just for the benefit of the butterflies, "but also for all of wildlife and for us, to make sure that we have a healthy environment.”

Public Awareness

He hopes that his exhibit will help raise public awareness about the plight of the butterflies.

With young visitors like Ava and Gunnar, the message seems to have found a receptive audience.

“I learned that when butterflies flutter when they eat, it’s because they can’t balance on the flower,” said Ava.

And Gunnar said he learned that there’s lots of different species, "and they only live for about three weeks.”

The Smithsonian’s Live Butterfly Pavilion is part of a larger exhibit which traces the evolution of the butterfly and its partnership with plants, which began more than 180 million years ago.

Dan Babbitt said the museum’s goal for the next five years is to reach as many people as it can, one curious visitor - and butterfly - at a time.

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid