by David Footle, Exhibit Interpreter at Butterfly Pavilion
Invertebrates make up the vast majority of animal life on Earth, but their story often goes untold. These animals do more than just survive, they thrive almost anywhere we think of life existing; outnumbering and outweighing us. Because of their massive presence throughout the world, invertebrate animals play a vital role in maintaining ecosystems and the overall health of our planet. Considered to be the father of modern naturalist movement, E.O. Wilson is famously quoted that, “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”
While, not all invertebrates are insects, this beautifully stated observation showcases their importance. Spiders are estimated to consume 400–800 million tons of prey annually and have been found to be major factors in the creation and maintenance of a healthy agricultural system, keeping pests down and affectively preventing monumental crop loss. Many invertebrates act as cornerstone species, creating the environment necessary for certain ecosystems to exist. Sea stars are partly responsible for keeping ecosystems like kelp forests—which provide a large portion of the Earth’s oxygen—alive and act as home to many recognizable animals like sea otters, seals and sea lions, orcas, as well as countless fish. Numerous medications and medical technologies have been developed thanks to invertebrate animals. Horseshoe crab blood is utilized to check the purity and sterilization of medical instruments and treatments, and the venoms—considered by some to be a reason to fear invertebrate animals—from creatures such as the cone snail have given rise to non-opioid pain medications and heart drugs.
Despite these incredible facets of invertebrate life on Earth, most of these animals go underappreciated, at best; or even reviled and feared, at worst. Rarely do we explore the beautiful countryside of Colorado with intent to observe the smaller creatures that may buzz by us. Our pleasant summer evenings are seen as ruined by the presence of animals such as mosquitos or the sound of a cicada’s mating call. Studies have shown that people look at any animal considered a “bug” as creepy and disgusting; including insects, spiders, millipedes, centipedes, slugs, snails, pill bugs, and even worms. How many times have you heard tales about daddy long legs having supposedly dangerous, tiny fangs? How many of you have heard to protect your ears from an earwig? Who’s been told that tarantula over there could kill you? These are the kinds of stories that are told. However, here at Butterfly Pavilion we aim to tell the true, amazing stories of our world’s invertebrate animals. We believe in the messages these “bugs” can deliver.
To do this, our amazing team of volunteers and staff works tirelessly to bring you face to face with some of the most incredible creatures alive. Every day at Butterfly Pavilion we offer a wide range of programs that you are able to take part in. These range from live animal encounters, like our Butterfly Encounter, to learning about humans eating bugs through our Bug Bites program. During the coming spring and summer seasons we will be offering even more special programming that will take you, as our guests, outside to be right there with the invertebrate animals with which we share our backyards. You can have the opportunity to be a citizen scientist and help us conduct the Monarch Watch, a nationwide survey of Monarch Butterflies that is done every year to help monitor their numbers. You will be able to help us locate where on our grounds we are seeing these animals and learn how to find them in your own community.
To help emphasize the benefits of not using chemicals in our gardens we will be offering opportunities for you all to release live Ladybugs into our gardens. These voracious creatures are fantastic controllers of aphids, and feast happily on those little pests keeping a garden healthy without using chemicals that would harm other animals too. We will continue to showcase the incredible hunting techniques of various invertebrates with live feeding demonstrations of our Peacock mantis shrimp on Mondays and Thursdays and our Salmon pink tarantula on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
A large body of recent studies has shown how people—especially children—are spending less and less time outside. Since being in an outdoor environment can actually help increase a person’s skills in cooperation, independence, and risk taking, playing outside has been found to reduce symptoms of mental illness, mitigate most ADHD symptoms, and boost human immune systems. We are working hard to offer these benefits to all of you with what we do here at Butterfly Pavilion. Starting in June we will be offering special nature play activities and games outside in our gardens that will bring you out onto the grounds around the building to explore this lovely habitat.
Every day we hear our guests say things like “That’s amazing! I had no idea octopus were so smart!” and “I’m so glad I finally held the tarantula!” Come visit us at Butterfly Pavilion to experience a new story with our amazing animals.