As a special 4th of July treat, we took a trip to the Milwaukee County Zoo. I suspect that you, like me, would assume that highlight of a visit to the zoo would be something like lions, tigers, giraffes, a giant pachyderm or possibly the orangutan. Or, if those did not leave an indelible impression, then perhaps it would be the antics of the spider monkeys or perhaps the performing sea lions.
But no. The big hit was the butterfly pavilion—the 90 degree Fahrenheit, 90% humidity, butterfly odyssey that is the special summer attraction at the zoo this year. The butterfly exhibit features butterflies from North America and the Caribbean, and many of the species flitting around in the hot house are species we don’t see in Wisconsin. However many of them: Monarchs, some of the whites and blues, the Hackberry Emperor, are common to our area.
Bug hunt “safaris” are a significant part of our summer activities, as we search for caterpillars and butterfly eggs on the underside of leaves and stems. I have even downloaded the Butterflies of Wisconsin App for my iPad.
Immediately as we entered the butterfly pavilion, a butterfly landed in my hair and decided to stay for a while. My daughter was instantly green with envy, and there was no getting her to leave the pavilion until a butterfly landed on her.
So we spent some time learning how to be very still in order to watch butterflies feed, and we spent a lot of time chasing butterflies that were just about to land on us until we moved suddenly. We were dive bombed and buzzed by some of the largest butterflies I have ever seen. We had a great front row seat to watch a black swallowtail feeding; we even saw the proboscis extended into the center of a flower as it fed on the obviously tasty nectar at the center.
The exhibit also had a display of butterfly pupae in various stages of development. The variations on the chrysalis among the species were amazing. In every book I’ve seen, a chrysalis is always drawn as a rather drab looking brown shell affixed to a twig. But in reality the chrysalis for each species of butterfly is quite distinctive, with colors ranging from green to white to orange and often showcasing elaborate silvery or golden highlights. “Look Mom, they’re hatching!” was my daughter’s delighted cry.
She did finally get a butterfly to spend some time on her finger, and a Hackberry emperor landed briefly on her face twice. She watched butterflies feeding on fruits and drinking from water-saturated sponges. She saw them gathering nectar from flowers. It was a great opportunity to see firsthand so much of what she has been reading in her books. She was fascinated and spent a really long time in the exhibit.
“Riding the rooster on the carousel!”
© 2011 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.