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Butterflies expose their secrets at Santa Ana Zoo

The butterfly looked plain, almost like a moth, as it rested on newly placed mulch at the Santa Ana Zoo. Having recently emerged from its chrysalis, its 2-inch folded wing blended into the brownish landscape, easy to miss.

But then the Blue morpho fluttered away, exposing its eye-popping, cobalt blue, iridescent palette trimmed in black.

“Look at that blue one,” a woman exclaimed. “He’s glorious!”

The Santa Ana Zoo has debuted a new exhibit, Flight – A Live Butterfly Experience, that celebrates the diversity of the winged insects, letting visitors get up an up-close look.

“We are always looking to connect the community to nature, and this is a new experience, never before offered at the zoo,” Manager Ethan Fisher said. “Visitors will love seeing the beautiful butterflies and learning about the steps they can take to help native pollinators thrive in our backyard.”




The 2,000-plus-square-foot outdoor aviary, with pollinator-attracting flowers, hosts 30 different species of butterflies in a growing collection.

Each Friday the zoo receives a shipment of pupai, or chrysalises, from Costa Rica Entomological Supply, a family run butterfly farm in Central America.

Hardy travelers, they are shipped in padded cardboard boxes via Fed Ex or air cargo. Upon arrival at the zoo they are sorted and then hung on a wooden dowel, attached with hot glue and foam, until the butterfly is ready to emerge.

Shani Remer, a registered veterinary technician and the zoo’s curator of health, works in the “emergence chamber,” where the creatures transform themselves.

“It’s fascinating and cool to see them emerge, knowing they have a relatively short life cycle,” Remer said of their approximate two to three weeks of life.  “They put so much energy into turning into this gorgeous butterfly.”

Twice a day she collects the ones that have emerged from their chrysalises, about 40 a day, as visitors look on.

“I want that job,” Frankie Pray told to her mother, Wendy, as she watched Remer gather the different species of butterflies into a netted container.

“You can do any job you want. You just have to go to school and study,” Wendy Pray advised her 10-year-old daughter.

Remer carried the butterflies into the aviary and released them around a curious group of children. The public is encouraged to wear bright clothing to attract the butterflies to land on them, but they are discouraged from touching the insects.

Through a series of signs, the exhibit explains the short, yet powerful, lifecycle of a butterfly and its impact on the planet.

According to the Butterfly Conservation website,, the winged creatures “have been around for at least 50 million years and probably first evolved some 150 million years ago.”

The pollinators help with food supply. Without them, “the human race and most of the earth’s ecosystems would not survive,” the zoo’s exhibit warns.

Aviary’s double-door entry helps assure none of the butterflies, which are not native to the local environment, escape and potentially cause ecological damage. Clippings from pruned plants are either frozen or bleached so no larvae or eggs escape. And there’s a mirror for visitors to inspect themselves to make sure no butterfly is hitching a ride out.

The butterfly exhibit will run through the end of September and return in the spring.

The zoo’s mission is to save wildlife through fun, adventure and learning, Fisher said. “And everyone loves butterflies.”


If you go:

The Flight – A Live Butterfly Experience is included with Santa Ana Zoo admission, but has capacity limits.

  • When: The zoo is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
  • Cost: $9 children and seniors, $12 adults
  • Where: The Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park is at 1801 Chestnut Ave.
  • Information:


Source: Orange County Register

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