AMNH breaks ground on Gilder Center

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Here are some excerpts from this article by Shaye Weaver. It appeared in amNY on June 12, 2019:

After five long years of planning, the American Museum of Natural History broke ground on its brand-new, $383 million Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation on Wednesday.

The Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family Insectarium – Visitors can learn about all sorts of insects, which are the most diverse group of organisms on the planet. The gallery will be the first of its kind in 50 years solely dedicated to the creatures.

The Butterfly Vivarium – This gallery will be open year-round for guests to get up close and personal with butterflies in their own habitat.

The Invisible Worlds Theater – Visitors can learn about new scientific findings through visualizations screened here.

An exterior view of The Richard Gilder Center

New changes to Theodore Roosevelt Park

Landscape designer Reed Hilderbrand will offer upgrades including a wider entrance from Columbus Avenue, new hardscape gathering area with seating, new plantings, drainage and irrigation improvements, and more trees and benches.

The disturbance of the beloved park has been a sticking point for many Upper West Side residents. Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park unsuccessfully sued the museum to halt development of the Gilder Center, but the museum was able to get approval from the necessary city agencies and Community Board 7 after conducting an environmental review.

Full article here.


NY Times: Monarchs and Milkweed

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By Malia Wollan

“If you plant it, they will come,” says Catherine Werner, sustainability director for the city of St. Louis, Mo., referring to the milkweed on which female monarch butterflies lay their eggs and the resulting caterpillars hatch and feed. Since 2014, Werner has led the Milkweeds for Monarchs program, which now includes a 30-acre pollinator pathway along the Mississippi River and more than 400 milkweed and nectar-flower gardens in backyards, front yards, schoolyards and rooftops across the city.

To appeal to monarchs and other butterflies, plant a nine-square-foot plot in a sunny location with a mix of nectar plants and milkweed, a wildflower. Use at least three different milkweed varieties native to your area (look for regional guides online). “Don’t plant tropical milkweed,” Werner says; it isn’t native and can harbor monarch parasites. And to avoid disrupting the reproductive cycle of Western monarchs, don’t plant any kind of milkweed if you live within five miles of the California coast.

Old-timers in St. Louis remember the sky being darkened by delicate orange and black wings. In more recent decades, though, the number of monarchs has plummeted by some 80 percent in the East and 99 percent in the West. Next year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is expected to decide whether to include the butterfly on the endangered species list. Entomologists think the decline in the Eastern monarch population, which flies through St. Louis on its annual migration thousands of miles from Mexico to Canada and back again, may be due in part to farmers’ in the Midwest increasingly planting herbicide-tolerant corn and soybeans. The herbicides sprayed on these crops kill milkweed in agricultural regions, where female butterflies are especially prone to lay their eggs. “Don’t use pesticides or any other chemicals if you’re trying to attract butterflies,” Werner says.

With as few as nine plants and an hour or so of spadework, you can grow a sanctuary. Werner planted milkweed plots in both her front yard and backyard; she recently counted more than 30 monarchs flying by the city’s Gateway Arch in just five minutes; someone snapped photos of a monarch caterpillar on milkweed in front of city hall; and the number of butterfly gardens is already about double the program’s goal. “You can make a real difference for these ethereal creatures,” she says.

Volunteer party

– 21 years of the butterfly vivarium
– The devoted volunteers

Our end of year party was a blast. Even the napkins were of a lepidopterist persuasion.

Awards were handed out for longevity.  I’m looking forward to my ‘5 year’ button in a couple of years.

All the staff contributed their home-made food. It was very lovely.

Season ceases

This third year of my Butterfly Vivarium Happy Place concludes with some glorious photographs.

Shadow red leaf.JPG

White Peacock bouquet.JPGWhite Peacock, from Florida and Central America

Clipper blue morpho.JPGClipper from Southeast Asia and a Blue Morpho from Central and South America.

Clipper upside down.JPGAnother Clipper from another view point.

Leopard Lacewing.JPGLeopard Lacewing from Southeast Asia.

DSC06747.JPGCommon Mime from Southeast Asia.

Clipper Cracker.JPGClipper, Dark Blue Tiger and a Longwing.

Monarch pine.JPGKing Billy.




a synthetic composite material with a structure such that it exhibits properties not usually found in natural materials.


Here’s an excerpt from an article in the New York Times, May 17, 2019:

Knitting Is Coding, Untangling the Weave by Siobhan Roberts 
When discussing the emergent properties of knitting, Dr. Matsumoto sometimes makes reference to a butterfly, the vibrant blue morpho. Its color is optically emergent, the result not of chemical pigment but of structure. In effect, each wing is a metamaterial: covered in layers of nanosized scales, arranged in a pattern called a gyroid surface, the wing absorbs most wavelengths of light, but reflects blue.

Knitted fabric is also a metamaterial. A length of yarn is all but inelastic, but when configured in slipknots — in patterns of knits and purls — varying degrees of elasticity emerge.

knitting blueHere’s my question:
What is the connection between knitting and the color of the blue morpho’s wings? I understand that the pattern of the scales create a ‘metamaterial’ – like the stitches of knitting, but why mention the color? 

Here’s the answer from Peggy Monahan, science educator, knitter and pal (and former colleague at the NY Hall of Science):
It seems that a metamaterial has qualities that are quite different than the underlying material, depending on the way that material is shaped. The proteins of the butterfly wing’s scales aren’t blue at all – but the scales look blue because of the way the shape of the proteins scatters light. The material isn’t blue, but the metamaterial is – because of the way it’s shaped. 

Just like the wool yarn isn’t really stretchy, but the metamaterial of the knitted fabric is – because of the way it’s shaped. 

Blue Morpho.jpg

Old and new favorites in the Vivarium

It is almost the end of the season in our beloved Butterfly Conservatory.

Here’s a new favorite: a Lime Swallowtail from Southeast Asia.  Curiously, it has also been seen in the Dominican Republic.

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Our most popular beauty displays its blueness… or its ability to reflect blue!


Blueness with a Cracker and a closed Blue Morpho.

blue morpho + starry cracker

I see right through you!

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Malachite butterflies often offer classy poses.




Always interested in hearing about someone’s passion. Just like visitors do in the Vivarium when they get me going about butterflies.

So when NYC Audubon issued an invitation to “discover birding in the more serene northern part of Central Park during the height of songbird migration,” I went.

About 30 people showed up, equipped with really fancy binoculars.

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When they spotted a Solitary Sand Piper, they got very excited.

Image may contain: plant, outdoor, water and nature

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, tree, grass, child, outdoor and natureThe NYC Audubon leader, in the red plaid shirt, was knowledgeable and nice. He told me that they were concentrating on spotting migrators.

I gave him some AMNH vouchers to come see the Butterfly Exhibit, which he seemed to really appreciate.