Aquariums typically aren’t hubs of butterfly activity, but having an Amazon free-flight gallery at the Vancouver Aquarium allows us to showcase a range of terrestrial animals. Look down at the ground and you’ll see ringed teals (a type of duck) poking around for food; then look up among the plants and you’ll see dozens of butterflies fluttering around.

Paula Kalinowski, the interpreter responsible for Amazon programs, says she loves the reaction of visitors when they discover these colourful insects.

“It’s great to share a butterfly’s first flight with a group of visitors. It’s pretty special to see a butterfly that has just emerged from its chrysalis in the past few hours.”

Butterflies will eventually emerge from these chrysalides (on display at the Vancouver Aquarium). The chrysalides differ in colour and texture according to the butterfly species.

The butterflies are shipped from Costa Rica and arrive at the Aquarium as chrysalides. They are raised as eggs by local farmers who leave the rainforest intact on their land. This allows the butterflies to choose specific native plants on which to lay their eggs (some butterfly species are very picky, laying their eggs only on specific plants because their caterpillars’ lives depend on it).

This strategy is very efficient, saving a hatching caterpillar from searching for food. Once the caterpillar hatches it can immediately start to munch, and munch, and munch… By leaving native plants to thrive on their land, these butterfly farmers are conserving rainforest that would otherwise be cleared for agriculture.

The Aquarium is just one of the many accredited zoos and aquariums that are taking part in the Butterfly Conservation Initiative, a program designed to increase public awareness of this insect and the home they depend on for survival.

They’ll be at the Aquarium until the end of summer. Learn more about them during the Butterfly Critter Corner.


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