By Mario Padilla, Entomologist and Beekeeper at Butterfly Pavilion
At Butterfly Pavilion, we believe in conserving, protecting and educating the public about invertebrates from habitats around the globe. The reason we do this is because many of these animals are often forgotten. They tend to be small, hide in dark places and may trigger a fear in many people. The truth is invertebrates make up 97% of the animal life on earth, with 1.2 million described species. Invertebrates are the foundation of countless food chains, control pests, pollinate our food, have vast research implications and are eaten by humans around the world.
In order to protect these important animals, Butterfly Pavilion participates in the Safety Web for Arthropod Reproduction and Management (SWARM). This program focuses on keeping vulnerable arthropods (invertebrates like insects, spiders and crustaceans) in zoo collections by breeding and refraining from wild collection. SWARM is a program sanctioned by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Terrestrial Invertebrate Taxon Advisory Group (TITAG). If you have ever been to Butterfly Pavilion, you have probably had an up close experience with one of our most important ambassador animals: Rosie the tarantula and she is the focus of the SWARM that Butterfly Pavilion holds. Our large collection of Rosie tarantulas (also called the Chilean Rose Hair, Grammostola rosea) allows us to communicate with other zoos about breeding, husbandry, welfare and conservation of this important species.
Chilean Rose Hair tarantulas are native to the edges of the Atacama Desert in Chile, which is the driest desert on earth. In their natural habitat, female Rosie tarantulas stay in their burrows and wait for an unsuspecting insect to walk by. These tarantulas may make their own burrow, or take a premade or naturally occurring space as their home. Males are much more active than females, as they wander around to find suitable mating partners. Once mated, a female tarantula produces a large egg sac made of silk which can hold hundreds of young. Males can live 5-10 years and female can live 20-25 years! It is because of this lifespan, that we can use tarantulas as an indicator species; they are sensitive to potentially massive changes in their environment and may not live to sexual maturity based on these changes.
Butterfly Pavilion believes that an up close interaction with animals such as Rosie can provide an invaluable experience to all of our guests, which helps them understand more about the importance of invertebrates to humans and the world at large. This is why we continue to work on keeping these magnificent animals in zoos and protect their habitats around the world.