We recently hosted a surprise wedding proposal. The bride-to-be had been fooled into thinking that she and her boyfriend and family were going to be actors for a commercial to publicize butterfly releases for us.
But in their release box below the butterflies, Cleo had placed her ring. This video begins after the release, with the boyfriend telling her to look in the bottom of the box. From the video below, I think you could say that she was surprised!
What is also interesting is how the gorgeous Blue morpho, still in the box after the release, sits with its wings open for so long. This is unusual, especially with all the activity around it. Blue morphos don't like to sit with their wings open very much because their iridescence makes them very visible and vulnerable. Its almost like the butterfly is celebrating too.
Kudos to Cleo for a job well done. I think you will enjoy this short video.
For a long time, I have wanted to produce enough butterflies to be able to release some into the wild. After all, the numbers of butterflies are dropping everywhere. The reason is deforestation and the use of chemicals for insect control.
Between all the work that is required here, and the need to constantly replenish our flight house (because most of our butterflies only live 4-5 weeks) I never seemed to get around to it. But all that began to change recently.
Almost a year ago, El Valle friends Deborah Landsing and Michael Lundsford asked for plants to help establish their yard as a butterfly sanctuary. I was glad to oblige. But the conversation progressed to a discussion about not just feeding butterflies, but also raising them.
It was funny hearing Deborah express her thanks for my help in getting her started. Because for me, it represented the realization of one of my long held goals.
At last, here we are, installing her first generation of larvas from the gorgeous Blue Morpho. She has since raised a couple more generations.
In case anyone doesn't know, here is what the adult looks like. It is the most beautiful butterfly in all the Americas.
A tidbit of interesting information about the Blue Mopho; the brilliance is actually a defense. When they are flying, the brilliant wing topsides contrast with the dark undersides to create a flashing light, similar to a strobe light. The effect is that it slows or mesmerizes the brains of predators (like birds) so that the butterfly has time to escape. Pretty amazing!
By the way, the flashing wings have the same effect on us. When we watch the Blue Morpho fly, we actually become relaxed-I call them the "yoga butterfly."
After a hiatus, we began reproducing Owl (Caligo) butterflies again. They are the largest butterflies in all the Americas.
Here is a short video of Cleo releasing our excess males (they are very territorial-they chase the Blue Morphos and sometimes they even harass visitors!)
They young caterpillars rest in the ridge of the Heliconia or Banana leaf during the day where it is barely noticed. They feed at night when their movement isn't seen by predators.
As the Owl butterfly caterpillars grow, they are able to crawl to the stalk of their host plant to rest. Can you spot the large one on the left side? It has a brown stripe down its back and it is around 3/4 the height of the photo. It grows to nearly 7 inches long! Notice how their markings and coloration camouflage it so well.
When resting, they tend to group together in order to look like a larger organism that is harder to attack.
Lastly, the pupa (or chrysalis) of the Owl butterfly exactly resembles a dry, curled leaf. It even looks like it has veins.
Isn't nature amazing?
This is why we offer informational tours at Butterfly Haven. I had been to many butterfly houses, but they only provided a walk-through and an opportunity to ask questions.
As I learned how interesting these creatures are, I wanted our guests to share in the amazement by providing informational tours about their lives and their habitat.
Hopefully, we could leave them with a greater appreciation of nature. In our highly technical, fast paced lives we have lost our connection with the natural world.
We should not forget that we need nature (although it surely doesn't need us)
Working with butterflies everyday has changed my reality. I am more open to the uncertainty and wonderment of life. For example, watching friends help fulfill my goal of releasing butterflies!
I returned to Panama after a month in Pennsylvania in May and I realized that my focus in the Butterfly Haven had been on "problem solving" instead of on guiding the project into the future. Consequently, I was running in circles and stressed much of the time. Seeing all this allowed me to step back, look at the whole picture and see things as our visitors do. I also began to delegate more. Besides being more relaxed, I am now more present to the efforts and strengths of our staff.
Speaking of staff people, I would like to introduce Shaina Perez. She is daughter to Cleo (Sr. guide) As a tour guide, she is very pleasant with visitors and she also helps with flight house maintenance. She is studying bilingual education at the University of Panama. Shaina is also a mom to 3 year old Aivlyn.
The number of visitors in July was way up. One reason is that a national newspaper did an article about us and a national TV station filmed us for 2 stories. We even hosted a visit for El Valle's finest :)
A long-awaited change was to add and upgrade road signs. A big thumbs up to my sister-in-law Wendy who did the design work. Here is a small sign on the back street. This has also contributed to our jump in the number of visitors.
The first recent improvement we made was installing a plastic cover over the flight house in May for the beginning of the rainy season. This allows the butterflies to be more active during the rains and our visitors to have a happier experience. For additional income, I am in the process of converting and remodeling the 3 bedroom house on the property into 2 units. Here is a photo of the almost completed kitchen in the 1 BR apartment. Those beautiful cabinets are locally made.
I am very thankful for the people who are helping to publicize Butterfly Haven in their own way. Whether "talking us up" with fellow travelers, writing TripAdvisor reviews (we are now #1 in the province) or publicizing articles about us, we are constantly delighted with all the impromptu publicity. Recently, 2 amateur volunteer videos about Butterfly Haven have been produced. Without further adieu I would like to introduce them...
The first video I discovered while perusing Youtube. It is from Mareen LoBue whom I didn't recognize although I certainly enjoyed her video... But coincidentally, I recently went to a party and met a great fellow ballroom dancer who turned out to be Mareen! She is now my dance partner and I am happily helping her teach a class. Here is her video:
The next video is from our own Cleo Perez, guide extraordinaire who is talented at making videos as well. Enjoy!
Today, February 13 is the one-year anniversary of Butterfly Haven. It has been a time of great challenge, adventure, and satisfaction in delivering a delightful experience to so many people. I am sure it is a year that I will never forget.
I have heard it said that employees will make or break an enterprise. If that is true, then Butterfly Haven has it made...Everyone here is reliable, hard working, pleasant and makes this an enjoyable place to be. Please meet our great people...
Cleo Perez is our tour guide extraordinaire. Always friendly and laughing with visitors, he is constantly dreaming up new ways for visitors to have a great experience. In addition, he works hard maintaining the exhibit areas everyday. Cleo also paints signs, creates enhanced photos for visitors (see below) and has just started making butterfly wing jewelry. He has been married to Chanet for 21 years and they have 5 children.
Andrew Jenkins is an Alabama native and recently joined us working 4 days per week as a lab technician where we reproduce butterflies. An Environmental Engineer by training, he just completed a 2 year stint with the Peace Corps in the Darien Province, Panama where he installed drinking and waste water treatment for the Embera Indians. He is always looking for ways to improve the lab and he has introduced log records to the lab. In addition, he is bilingual and leads visitor tours.
Joanna also recently joined us and is working 2 days per week in the lab. She is also bilingual and leads tours as well. She was formerly a scuba and water activities instructor and will be with us through January. She brings a caring, conscientious spirit to Butterfly Haven.
Amaya is our contractor. A native of El Salvador, he left there 14 years ago to find work. Walking through Mexico in 45 days, he worked in the US and Belize before coming to Panama where he now has a wife and 2 daughters. Working for the past month on many odd jobs, he has helped me whittle down my giant project list.
At last we have a great gardener! Pastor brings hard work and and a fun spirit to our beautiful gardens. He has 4 children.
Though not an employee of Butterfly Haven, Erin rents the cafe and casita and cooks up wonderful and creative breakfasts and lunches several days a week. She is also passionate about teaching yoga.
Our latest big project is a gift shop. It is 8 x 12 ft and is situated in front of flight house entrance. It will showcase butterfly gifts such as tee shirts, jewelry, etc.
Lastly, I wanted to include this beautiful photo. My friend Chuck who is a professional photographer was doing a photo shoot in our back yard. I invited him to use the flight house and when we went inside, I immediately spotted a crippled butterfly at the bench where Arisbeth was seated. I handed her the butterfly-no one had to tell her to smile...
Just a note to share a few new items-first, check out this great promotional video my friend Chuck Holton produced. It includes the cafe which is perfect since we are approaching tour companies and offering a combination lunch and tour package:
We have a new and long awaited addition-Glass Wing butterflies (Greta Oto) which we are now successfully reproducing. They are interesting to look at and they also have an interesting characteristic in that they are more active in rainy, overcast weather. During periods of sun, they tend to hide in the shade. This is the opposite of other butterflies which love the warmth and sun.
Last week we hosted 2 school groups totaling 150 students in one day-whew! Somehow we managed to accommodate them and they seemed happy with the visit. Panamanian kids are well behaved, fortunately.
I am still working to get the proper plastic for the roof to make us rain proof. I think I finally found a way by importing it from the US. Living and working here has taught me patience but sometimes...
The last bit of news is that we attained a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor. We are the only attraction in El Valle to presently earn that designation. To see our rating and read our reviews, click on the TripAdvisor button on the top right corner of this page. Thanks to all the people who helped make that happen!
May is a slow month in El Valle and Butterfly Haven is no exception. But we have used the time to make some changes. In preparation for tours and more visitors, we have relocated the education area next to the flight house. Now we don't have to walk visitors across the cafe-this is a big improvement.
The next improvement (hopefully beginning as soon as next week) will be to cover the roof in clear plastic. This will make the butterflies and the visitors happier during the "green" rainy season which started recently. The covering will make us one of the few rain-proof attractions in El Valle.
In a few months, I plan to enlarge the flight house around 30% which will make the Butterfly Haven about 2300 square feet under roof.
The exciting news that occurred around the first of May is that we became the #1 rated attraction (out of 17) on Tripadvisor in El Valle. We did it in only 2 1/2 months of operation:
The latest "winged" additions here are the Giant Swallowtails. They are great for exhibition because they are showy since they "park" with their big wings open. They have already gifted us with many eggs and larva.
Speaking of tours, I have hired a local friend Carlitos to market for us. He has done a great job as we have already received many inquiries and visits from hotels and tour groups.
At the end of April, Linda went back to the States and I began renting the cafe to Dan and Erin who are originally from the Connecticut. They added lunches to the menu, and they are receiving many kudos for their tasty, innovative food and friendly service.
Speaking of great service, friend and consultant Jorge and his wife Illeana came for 2 days last week to help us by tweaking operations with the plants and with the lab.
I am thankful for all the wonderful people who are in my life. One of the cool things about this enterprise is that I never know who will walk through our gates. We get so many interesting and nice people here.
Thanks for reading and until next time, adios!
We have now been open now for 4 1/2 weeks and I'm happy to report that we are getting great feedback on both the butterfly house and the cafe, which is very gratifying. It is a joy working among beautiful butterflies everyday and being able to share them with the world at large. Yesterday, we were interviewed by Playacommunity newspaper for an upcoming article and The Visitor has said that they want to also publish an article on Butterfly Haven which will be distributed nation-wide.
We are receiving approximately 25 visitors per day-not nearly enough cover expenses but the numbers are growing as we market the business. Speaking of which, we are already ranked #7 on TripAdvisor for attractions in El Valle. Here is a link complete with some pictures: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g635545-d6351598-Reviews-Butterfly_Haven-El_Valle_de_Anton_Cocle_Province.html
Yesterday we were visited by representatives from 2 tour companies and we have visits from 2 school groups scheduled for the next several weeks. As a side note, I have been trying for months to purchase pupas of a prolific species(Gulf Fritillary) from Costa Rica. But this week, Steph our lab volunteer found their larva on some of our host plants! The Gulf Fritillaries would be produced as butterflies to be released at weddings and would be a supplemental side business.
Here are pics of the cafe:
And here are a few pics from the butterfly facility:
Thanks for checking out our blog-hope you enjoyed!
After 3 1/2 years in the creative process and nearly a year in construction, Butterfly Haven is almost ready to open! In retrospect, while the project has involved much work and angst, we have enjoyed great support from many wonderful people including...family and friends-both here and in States, contractors and workmen, and even the support from local government agencies. Thank you all!
Please enjoy a time-lapse collection of photos:
Here is the very beginning of construction-the laying out of the entrance building. You can see a few collected butterfly plants in pots in the background.
Speaking of plants, many days were spent with consultants out in the nurseries and woods finding the right plants for butterflies. Here is Alex.
Visitor bathrooms and a new septic system had to be built.