For those seeking a respite from the soul-deadening cold, a trip to the Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House may be in order, where you can instead complain about the suffocating heat. While it’s one of those attractions associated with entertaining your idiot relatives, the exhibit is actually worth a revisit for the plethora of diverse butterflies. You forget they exist, until you accidentally step on one and cry. (Editor’s note: No butterflies were actually killed in the course of reporting this story.)
There are several hundred in the flora-laden room, though it’s difficult to get an exact head count because the butterflies won’t stay still. Of note are Blue Moons (they have blue moons on them), Leopard Lacewings (they resemble leopards), and Banded Peacocks (you get the idea). Many are beautiful from a distance but creepy close up, like me. Chief among them are the Yellow-Edged Giant Owls, so named for the two large spots which resemble the judgmental eyes of an owl, otherwise known as the narcs of the forest.
All pass the time in the butterfly hoosegow by basking in the sun, chasing their rivals (called spiraling), and sipping flower nectar and overripe fruit juice with their giant proboscis. A pretty typical day for anyone, really. While the butterflies are allowed to chase each other, the house rules stipulate to not chase the butterflies (so unfair!). It’s understandable. The main task is walking around without accidentally killing things, a problem I have in many exhibits.
It’s unlikely you’ll inadvertently mush a butterfly, though some of them have it coming. The ones that fly low to the floor like they’re trying to avoid radar detection in World War II are taking their lives into their hands (or the butterfly equivalent of hands). Some even idiotically rest on the ground.
Perhaps it’s simply part of a butterfly’s life cycle. They begin as eggs, morph into caterpillars, form a pupa, turn into adult butterflies, and then are accidentally stepped on by a 10-year-old in a SpongeBob shirt. To be honest, I may have killed about 17 by mistake, but that was all due to a really big sneeze. (Editor’s note: See previous editor’s note). What’s tragic is the poor little creatures live for only one to two weeks anyway, and they probably spend their limited time on petty things, as humans do. One of them graciously let me get up close for a picture, until I realized he was dead. I put a mirror under his proboscis and got nothing.
This is why the Tropical Butterfly House receives weekly shipments of pupae from tropical countries like El Salvador, Costa Rica, and the Philippines. The show must go on. Some of the butterflies are go-getters and begin to emerge right away, while others can lazily take about a week to reach adulthood (fucking millennials). On the day I visited, the room was aflutter with Swallowtail butterflies, which can drink nectar while flying in place—though I can stand while sipping a beer, so it’s not that impressive.
What is impressive is having a butterfly land on you. You’ll know when it happens, because everyone will bow down and chant, “He is chosen!” The trouble is knowing what to do next. Proper etiquette requires that you walk slowly so as not to alarm the butterfly, and take it where it needs to go. When a Crimson Swallowtail landed on my shoulder, she said frantically, “Kiss me! Just kiss me, I don’t have time to explain.” So we kissed as two Yellow-Edged Giant Owls flew by, eyeing us suspiciously. Then she immediately took off. I didn’t even get her name.
Without a doubt the best part of the butterfly exhibit is leaving—not because you want to, but because you’re asked to spin around to check if any butterflies are trying to escape on your clothes. As the inspector approached, I was tempted to open my jacket like Neo in The Matrix and reveal a bounty of concealed butterflies. There actually was one on my shirt. “He came in with me,” I said.
As warm rooms go, the butterfly house is one of the best in town (what a sell). You’ve got saunas, laundromats, my grandmother’s house—really, there are very few options for getting out of the cold. If you’re looking to be in a smothering tropical climate, you might as well see some pretty flying things. Remember, they can remove the butterflies from your clothes, but they can’t take the memories (or the tiny, freshly laid eggs).