2013-05-30 / Local & State

Virginia Butterfly Garden Has Strict No-touch Rules

By Mike Allen

THE ROANOKE TIMES

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) – Don’t touch the butterflies.

Don’t pick them up. Don’t try to catch them. Don’t step on them. Don’t leave with any of them on your clothes.

Entering and leaving the new butterfly garden at the Science Museum of Western Virginia isn’t like a simple traipse into a field. There are rules you have to follow – many of them required by federal law.

Derek Kellogg, the museum’s lead animal care specialist, explained that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has strict rules designed to prevent non-native butterfly species from escaping from the garden.

The no-escape rules apply to unregulated butterfly species as well, as the USDA sees potential for those butterflies to become carriers of germs and parasites contracted from more exotic tropical butterflies that will eventually join them.

To minimize chances of escape, there are two vestibules that function like air locks. One is for entering, one is for exiting. There will be volunteers stationed at each vestibule. A visitor will be escorted inside, then asked to remain in the vestibule while the volunteer explains the rules.

No outside food or drink are allowed in the sauna-like garden environment. Visitors shouldn’t leave the garden with any of the butterflies or plants.

Then, when it’s time to enter the garden proper, you should go through the second vestibule door as quickly as possible so as not to let any butterflies out.

Even though there’s an air curtain in place to keep the butterflies from flying straight out, some might still get through. If one does, the volunteer has to “reacquire the butterfly,” as Kellogg put it, using a net kept in the vestibule corner “for escape artists.” The wayward insect is placed in a cage Kellogg calls the “butterfly detention center” and the escape is noted for a report that must be sent to the USDA the following day.

Once inside, mind where you step. The butterflies tend to settle on the walkways and benches to take a break from flitting. Because the USDA requires butterfly gardens to discourage their charges from reproducing _ the garden is filled with varieties of plants that the butterflies will feed from but won’t lay eggs on _ the museum pays $1,000 a week to bring in 300 pupae to replenish the population. That’s the reason the museum charges $4 extra to visit the garden on top of its regular admission.

So if you step on a butterfly, that’s a $3.33 insect you’ve killed. In addition, the USDA requires that butterfly corpses must be frozen for 72 hours at minus 20 degrees before they can be disposed of.

Kellogg acknowledged it will be hard to constantly enforce the no-touch rule but said the insects are so fragile that the wear and tear caused by ignoring the rule will injure the butterflies and diminish the experience for other visitors, so there’s common courtesy to consider, too.

Kellogg said he hopes to obtain the needed USDA permits to allow the garden to include tropical species by the end of June. Part of the delay involves a need to redesign the garden’s chrysalis case. The original version was made with materials that can’t stand up to the 80 percent humidity the garden maintains, with temperatures at about 85 degrees during the day and 75 at night.

The plants on display include ferns, palms, Egyptian star flowers and Panama roses – plants from the lantana and coffee families are commonly used for butterfly gardens. Eventually the science museum garden will house orchids.

Once in the exit vestibule, visitors are asked to inspect themselves for butterfly hitchhikers in a full-length mirror and check any open bags for fluttery passengers. A volunteer will also check them over, with a net handy in case someone’s attempting a garden break.

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