By Julie Pendray
Walking into Butterfly Jungle at San Diego Zoo Safari Park can make you gasp out loud and laugh with joy. Think of a Disney movie song, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. What a tonic. After all, when was the last time a Blue Morpho landed on your shoulder? You might see a playful group of them swirling in circles and wafting up into trees, seeming to tease each other and guests, or swooping over ducks in a pond, just for kicks. The joie de vivre brings a big grin to even the jaded among us.
In this walk-through exhibit, open now through April 23, guests are immersed in a rain forest aviary with thousands of winged creatures. The lush, colorful foliage is another pleasure, after San Diego’s rainy winter. Staff will replace up to 300 plants each week during the event, to make sure flowers are fresh and full of nectar. This is an annual display, held every spring at the park.
Capturing butterflies with a camera is like herding cats but well worth the effort. One minute you’ll see morphos flit by you, then the next minute these masters of camouflage seem to have disappeared. In reality, they have become dull brown beings hidden in plain sight. With patience, focusing a lens on the same spot, you will be rewarded when they open their wings again to reveal the vibrant blue.
If you go, dress in bright colors to attract these creatures. Remember to look down from time to time, so you don’t step on any that have landed near your feet. On the way out, you’ll be stopped by staff to make sure there are no “hitchhikers” on your clothes, your head or your camera bag. During my visit, several of us still had little friends attached to us at the exit. One woman told me she’d dressed colorfully as though she was “channeling a butterfly.” It worked.
Children can learn about the life cycle from displays at the exhibit.
“Our guests have the opportunity to learn about and participate directly in conservation,” says Michael Mace, curator of birds. He says farmers in the butterflies’ natural range support their families by raising butterfly pupae for zoological exhibits like this worldwide.
When pupae arrive at Safari Park, staff carefully sort and count them before gently placing each one’s silk attachment into a butterfly hatching box. Pupae remain there until they’re ready to emerge, within hours or days. Then they are released into the jungle. About 30 species from Central, South and North America are included here, such as the zebra longwing, orange-barred tiger, Grecian shoemaker, giant swallowtail and the blue morpho. Eleven exotic bird species, such as the endangered Bali myna and Mariana fruit dove, share the space.
Butterfly Jungle is included in Safari Park admission. Park hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido. For more information, call 619-231-1515 or visit the web site sdzsafaripark.org
San Diego Zoo Global works to bring species back from the brink of extinction. Efforts include on-site wildlife conservation work for both plants and animals at San Diego Zoo, Safari Park and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents.
To view the photo gallery, click on the first image, then click on the right arrow to go through the rest.
Photos also contributed by D. Redmond.
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