Dolf DeJong is the vice president of conservation and education at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. He is currently on assignment at the Oceanografic Aquarium in Valencia, Spain, supporting the staff of Europe’s largest aquarium as they expand their conservation and education efforts. His On Assignment blog series chronicles some of his adventures and experiences while he’s on dispatch in Spain.
When you visit some of the offices at the Oceanografic Aquarium, one of the first things you’ll notice is that our “office mates” look a little different than in most workplaces. For example, Cesar Perez, curator of birds and reptiles, is surrounded by no fewer than 13 species of animals in various stages of their life cycles.
Managing the diverse needs of all these different species is a challenging task for a few reasons. Many of the animals have unique food requirements and must consume certain plants or prey to survive. These dietary needs also change as they grow and some animals only eat at certain times of the day. It is a complex and dynamic balance that Cesar and our other animal care professionals have mastered to ensure the animals in their care have what they need to be healthy and successful.
One painstaking project is the propagation of butterflies for the butterfly house at Oceanografic. If butterfly pupas are left on the plants, their transformation process risks being interrupted by a hungry caterpillar munching through the leaves. There is an art to caring for some of these more delicate species. I’ve watched Cesar go through the process of carefully pinning butterfly pupas onto a board where they will grow into a butterfly — it was like watching an experienced craftsman. To ensure their survival he methodically examined each pupa, selected the best place to insert the pin and spaced them out perfectly, with enough room for them to emerge from their chrysalis simultaneously. After this very meticulous process he patiently waits while the pupa cells rearrange themselves preparing for the transformation of caterpillars into beautiful butterflies.
Twenty days later Cesar and the team’s efforts are rewarded. After mounting the pupas, appropriately managing the temperature as well as the photo period (the amount of daylight hours per day and light intensity), the butterflies emerge. They spend their first hours pumping fluid into their wings as they prepare to take flight in Oceanografic’s new butterfly house, located near the Patagonian sea lions.
The adult butterflies will feed on the nectar of the flowers and fruit delivered daily by the animal care staff. Some of the butterflies will even continue the life cycle in the habitat by depositing eggs on the undersides of leaves. Visitors can actually observe as the butterflies lay eggs in the habitat.
The butterfly house at Oceanographic will have butterflies in flight from June to September each year and visitors can come by to watch the butterflies in action. If you’re visiting outside of that time period, do stop by to see some of the other interesting invertebrates that also call the butterfly house their home.