Butterflies are back at Safari Park for flutter season

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The common blue morpho, zebra long wing, pink rose swallowtail and banded purple wing were in full flutter Wednesday.

Also, the paper kite, gulf fritillary, Grecian shoemaker, golden heliconid and several other species of butterflies. It’s that time of year: the annual butterfly exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, with its Butterfly Jungle opening to the public on Saturday.


In the wild, numerous butterfly species, including the migrating monarchs of Mexico, are taking a beating from modernity: loss of habitat, climate change, herbicide poisoning, and the prevalence of wood-burning stoves requiring trees for fuel.

If patrons to the Safari Park – nee Wild Animal Park – come away supporting ecological efforts to protect butterflies on their native turf, so much the better, according to zoo officials.

If you’re interested in having a butterfly – a monarch, tailed jay, postman, or maybe the (endangered) pink pigeon from Madagascar– land on your shoulder, head or elsewhere, best to wear bright clothing. Hundreds of butterflies from 30-plus species are flying and landing in the temperature-controlled aviary.

“It’s a chance to have a wild animal land on you without any damage,” said Don Sterner, animal care manager and chief butterfly wrangler at the park. ‘We’ve never had a report of someone attacked by a butterfly.’

The lifespan of most butterfly species is only a few weeks and so Butterfly Jungle will remain until April 7. Those that outlive the exhibit will spend their final days at the Safari Park.

Preparation for the annual exhibit started with importing 8,000 pupae from which came the caterpillars, cocoons and then the butterflies. One particularly large shipment this year came from Costa Rica, El Salvador and Columbia.

Starting with managing the pupae room, the butterfly exhibit is labor-intensive. Feeders in the aviary are kept full with nectar, the food of choice of many species.

Care is also taken so that the 14 species of birds that inhabit the aviary are not overly disrupted. And that no butterfly escapes the aviary attached to the clothing or hair of a patron.

“They’re beautiful,” said Mary McGee, 7, of San Diego, as orange, black and blue butterflies landed on her.


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