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Giant ‘Butterfly Jungle’ Exhibit Comes To San Diego

Evening Edition

San Diego will be home to one of the largest butterfly exhibits on the west coast, but only for a few weeks.

Part of the idea is to redouble efforts in the conservation of the monarch butterfly to avoid losing one of nature's most remarkable spectacles to deforestation.

San Diego Safari Park has been putting on its "butterfly jungle" exhibit for about 20 years now. It happens every spring for three weeks and is more than just a bunch of fancy fluttering.

"It's an opportunity to engage people with what's going on in the environment," said Rick Swartz, a global ambassador for the Safari Park. "Butterflies and other insects are a great indicator to what challenges maybe going on in certain ecosystems."

Butterflies are sort of like bees. They help pollinate trees, plants and a lot of the food products for people that come from farms. And just like the bees, their populations have been dwindling.

"The slightest temperature variance can actually affect their eggs and pupae and ability to develop properly," Swartz said.

There are 30 species of butterflies from all over the world at the exhibit. And be prepared, because one may land on you.

Or in this reporter's case, three.

All the exhibit's butterflies were hatched in San Diego, but hail from four different continents. Several thousand cocoons were shipped to San Diego from as far away as Africa, Asia and North, Central and South America. And they're kept in what feels like a tropical forrest, but it's really just a temperature controlled room warmed to 86 degrees.

The Safari Park has developed a conservation program to promote butterfly farming as a sustainable occupation. These cocoons hatch within a few days or weeks.

"They can continually raise these animals as well as the host plants in the realms of this farm without exploiting the tropical rain forrests around them," said Don Sterner, an animal care manager at the Safari Park. "Which we all know is endangered as well."

The lifespan of a butterfly can range from a few days to several weeks. This exhibit will be on display through April 7 at the San Diego Safari Park.

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