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Butterfly Haven, El Valle de Antón, Panama
The Butterfly Haven in the little town of El Valle de Antón Panama is well worth a visit. It is interesting, fun and educational for all ages. Butterfly Haven is the creation of an American expat who built it ground-up about 4 years ago. He is totally in love with butterflies. A great example of “living-his-dream” as the owner of this popular tourist attraction. Just ask him anything about these delicate little creatures. He’ll happily answer all your questions.
Spend as much time as you like in the walk-through exhibit. Then catch the informative talk with Q&A and the video. Also be sure to check out the life-cycle room. You’ll see many small netted containers, each with different species in various stages of development. I’ve been to some places where you only see photos of the stages, but these are really alive!
Caterpillars are voracious
The workers in the enclosure are quite busy collecting the eggs and caterpillars every day. The collected specimens are then put into little containers and whisked away to the laboratory. There they are carefully cared for until the butterflies emerge.
Finally, the newly hatched butterflies are reintroduced into the public enclosure. And thus the cycle begins again… the butterflies mate, lay eggs, and are collected.
Why collect them? Well, in the caterpillar stage, these guys are voracious eaters. So if left in the enclosure, it would be stripped bare of foliage in no time!!
Good camouflage means life or death
Butterflies have amazing camouflage abilities and other protection methods at all stages of their life cycle. Here’s just a few things I learned at the Butterfly Haven:
- I saw one caterpillar that literally looked like a blob of bird poop. Honest! What an ingenious way to avoid being eaten by predators!
- A chrysalis is not a cocoon! Moths and a few other insects make cocoons. The correct name for a butterfly pupa is a chrysalis.
- Some chrysalis so closely resemble a small broken twig, you would never even see it for what it really is.
- Never ever touch a caterpillar unless you are absolutely sure what kind it is. Some are poisonous.
- Some caterpillars eat (and thrive) on poisonous plants without harm to themselves. But they are fatal to any other creature that eats them.
- The big spots on many butterfly wings are designed to confuse predators. They often resemble eyes of much larger creatures. So a bird won’t go after something if it thinks it’s in danger of getting eaten itself.
- I saw another butterfly that looks exactly like a dead leaf when its wings are closed. Who wants to eat that?
Have a browse through the photo gallery below. You’ll see some examples of what I’ve mentioned. (Click on any photo to open light-box and browse full-size images.)
El Valle de Antón
This little town is up in the hills about 1½ hours west of Panama City. It sits at about 2,000 feet altitude in the bottom of an extinct volcano crater. This caldera is about 3.5 miles across. Every direction you look you see steep hills which were once the sides of the volcano.
Because of the altitude it’s a bit cooler than Panama City and is a favorite weekend play/get-away for local Panamanians. Horseback riding, hiking, waterfalls, petroglyphs and more. It’s also a popular spot for 2nd homes for the wealthy. There’s even a street named Calle Los Millionares (street of Millionaires). I’ve walked it and can testify that it is aptly named. The homes are huge, the grounds immaculate with gigantic gates to keep out the uninvited.
I recommend you spend a couple of days here if you have the time.