Butterfly Jungle at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formally Wild Animal Park) occupies over 1,800 acres of space, housing thousands of animals. While they’re definitely popular (2+ million visitors a year) one of their annual exhibits is likely the most fun. That would be the Butterfly Jungle exhibit, which is running April 9th – May 8th. Watch the video above for a preview we filmed of the exhibit, which required the assistance and guidance of Michael Mace, curator of Birds at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
One of the first things you notice is the sheer amount of butterflies, which seems like quite a task to arrange. “We’ve been importing butterfly pupa, hatching them and building up the number,” said Mace. “The big ones, the Morpho peleides blue (a large, blue-winged butterfly) and the owl butterfly that landed on your head as we came in (this is true), we bring those in first. The ones that take less time to emerge, we bring them in right before the exhibit opens. Overall, we import between 6,000-9,000 pupas from around the world.”
With such a vast operation, it sounds like you’ve got the process down pat. “This is our 19th year. We import the species that do well here, with our climate,” said Mace, ducking slightly as a bird darted over our heads. Birds around insects; is that on purpose? Mace laughed, “Yes. That’s one of the aspects of our exhibit that makes us unique. We have more than 14 species of birds, over 100 individual’s cohabiting with the butterflies. The longer time you spend in here, the more you see."
Moths are something that is not nearly as popular to talk about, but I notice you don’t have a moth exhibit. “Mace explained: “One of the fascinating things about human nature is that were dinormal. We’re awake during the daytime, but there are a whole numbers of animals who come out at night, moths being a huge great example. Moths are the equivalent of butterflies, serving the same purpose, at night. For example, if butterflies are pollinating plants during the day, moths are doing that at night. There are certain plants that become more fragrant at night to attract moths. Unfortunately, we aren’t open late enough to justify a moth exhibit.”
After the Butterfly Jungle exhibit is over, what do you do with the butterflies? “We let them live out their life cycle right here,” Mace said. “Butterflies have typically various life spans; some live only a few days, others live a few months.” Do the butterflies breed here? “No,” answered Mace. “Butterflies are a regulated activity by the Department of Agriculture at the federal level and at the state level. It’s complicated… they remain inside the exhibit, as they could be harmful to crops if they were to get out. Because they’re a non-native species, and we all know the challenges of non-native species and what they can do to crops, be it plants or animals. That’s why it’s important that our guests understand it as well, so when they come in and are ready to leave, they make sure they’re not bringing any butterflies out into the wild. We don’t produce butterflies here, because that would require us to bring in the plants that they need for breeding. How you manage that, is that butterflies rely on two types of plants: host plants and feeding plants. We provide the feeding plants, but not the host plants. Even if they try to lay eggs, the caterpillars wouldn’t survive because there aren’t the right host plants here for them to eat.”