Friday, March 14, 2014

Keeper Spotlight: Jennifer Taylor

Keeper spotlight is a monthly series about the staff and volunteers that care for the plants and animals living at the Tennessee Aquarium. You can tweet your questions to us at @TNAquarium using the hashtag #QTheKeeper.

Name: Jennifer Taylor

Title: Entomologist

In charge of: The Tennessee Aquarium’s Butterfly Garden

You might say that Jennifer Taylor was bitten by the entomology “bug” in college. She became interested in the subject during a basic class about the study of insects and eventually decided to focus her studies on this fascinating field.

Fast forward to 2005 when she became the resident entomologist overseeing the Butterfly Garden atop the Aquarium’s newly constructed Ocean Journey building. Now she cares for dozens of butterfly species in a carefully maintained habitat that also includes some birds and reptiles.
Jennifer Taylor inspecting the chrysalis case

Each morning, Jennifer’s first task is to check the chrysalis case for butterflies that have emerged over night. The new butterflies are collected in a screen cage to be released throughout the day into the garden. The case is also cleaned and disinfected weekly.

Jennifer Taylor showing off a Blue Morpho butterfly

Next on her to do list is feeding all the butterflies in the garden. This involves both cleaning out the old fruit from feeding plates and adding new fruit where needed. Different species enjoy sucking juices from the fruit and/or sampling nectar and leaves from plants growing in the garden.

Butterfly feeding plate

But other inhabitants need to be fed as well. The Aquarium’s Butterfly Garden is home to two special bird species: a Palawan Peacock Pheasant and a Crested Wood Partridge. These birds are given a mix of fruit, seeds and specially formulated bird food. Several geckos also make their homes within the garden. Although they are rarely seen by visitors or staff, a special gecko diet blend is left out for these reclusive reptiles.

Gecko from the Butterfly Garden

At any given time there are around 1,000 butterflies living in the garden. Many guests wonder where they all of them come from. Each week, a new shipment of pupae is received at the Aquarium. Each viable pupa is sorted and pinned inside the chrysalis case where it can safely grow until it’s time for the butterfly inside to emerge. Each species’ pupa is different in color, shape and size. Another part of Jennifer’s job is recording the outcome of each individual pupa and reporting back to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) annually.

Pupae sorting tray

Though she spends her day surrounded by numerous exotic species, Jennifer says that the best part of her job is “talking to visitors who are interested in butterflies.” She often invites those who spend time in the garden to help with butterfly releases. Releases are also a scheduled activity for visitors during our Keeper Kids programs.

You can listen to Jennifer talk more about the Aquarium’s Butterfly Garden, watch butterfly releases and see the pupae pinning process in this video:

Got a question for Jennifer? Tweet it to us at @TNAquarium with hashtag #QTheKeeper.