Daytripping: Notebaert Nature Museum
BREAKOUT: IF YOU GO The Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive, is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $7 for adults; $5 for seniors and students; $4 for children aged 3-12. Thursdays are free, but a donation is encouraged. For more information, go to www.naturemuseum.org. The re-emergence of 17-year cicadas may be getting most of the attention this summer, but a different kind of insect is the major draw at Chicago's Notebaert Nature Museum.
The Lincoln Park educational attraction boasts an indoor showcase for adult butterflies, within a garden atrium of 2,700 square feet. More than 1,000 butterflies swirl in the airspace like confetti - sometimes landing on visitors - and feed on blooming plants and pieces of overripe fruit provided for their sustenance.Notebaert's curator of biology, Doug Taron, recently offered a tour of the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven and explained its year-round operation. Here are excerpted portions of the interview. Q: How many different types of butterflies do you have in here?
A: At any given time, you'll be able to see about 75 species of butterflies. ... We get our butterflies from all over the world.Q: How do you get the butterflies?
A: Everything that's in here in the exhibit arrives (by shipment) as a chrysalis. It's like a cocoon, although 'cocoon' is technically not the right word to use for it.Q: You don't get a box and you open it and butterflies fly out?
A: No, we do not. ... We take them (chrysalises) out of the box. We hang them up (in a lab). In time, the butterflies emerge. That could be anywhere from a few days to a few months, and when the butterflies come out, we put them in a cage, bring them in here and release them.Q: How long do butterflies live?
A: On average, a butterfly will live for about two weeks as an adult.Q: What do you do with the butterfly carcasses?
A: Butterfly carcasses are collected in the mornings and we have to autoclave them. An autoclave is a high-pressure steam treatment to sterilize them. That's part of our Department of Agriculture regulations. And then they're disposed in the trash.Q: You are not licensed to breed the butterflies you import as chrysalises. Don't the adult butterflies want to mate and lay eggs in the haven?
A: The butterflies actually do mate in the haven. ... The way that we prevent them from completing their life cycles is that we don't plant any of the plant species that the caterpillars feed on. Those are (also) the plants that stimulate the female butterflies to lay eggs.Q: So, this is like some kind of butterfly birth control?
A: In a sense. We're just not providing them everything that they need to complete their life cycle.
Q: You recently added birds.A: We started out small. We've got eight birds - some honeycreepers from Central America and some gouldian finches from Australia ... They are very popular with our visitors, and so we just received another shipment of eight new birds today that are in quarantine downstairs that will be coming up here into the exhibit over the next couple of months.
Q: Don't the birds eat the butterflies?A: We have chosen our bird species that we include in here very carefully. The birds that are in here eat seeds and fruit exclusively, and they don't bother the butterflies. ...
Q: What function in nature do butterflies serve? Do they spread pollen around or something?A: Although butterflies do a little bit of pollination ... Their main function in nature is to be very low on the food chain and to be food for a lot of things, including many types of birds. ... They're preyed upon by a wide variety of things. I wouldn't want to be a butterfly.
Q: So their job is really just to look beautiful for a couple of weeks?A: Well, in here, that's certainly their job.