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Blog At the Museum

MLS Mailbag No. 2

Hello and welcome to a weekly feature on in which I take your questions about the Museum of Life and Science and answer them in mailbag form. Hopefully, the final product is insightful to some degree, and we have a little fun along the way!

Let’s get to it.

Do butterflies sleep? – thelozen on Instagram

Head down to the Magic Wings Butterfly House and you’ll notice that our winged friends are often as busy as the honeybees in the Insectarium next door, so it’s only natural to wonder if they rest. I come bearing good news — yes, butterflies and moths do sleep! But not like you and me!

According to Uli Hartmond, the Museum’s Butterfly House Director, butterfly sleep is called “roosting” or “half-sleep,” which describes the periods when butterflies rest for longer than a few minutes at a time. For some species of butterflies — lookin’ at you, Miss Monarch — roosting periods can last for entire months as a form of overwintering or hibernation. Fingers crossed human hibernation periods become a thing soon.

Some of our longwing butterflies in roost. Some of our guests understandably captivated.

ANYWAY, it can be hard to tell when butterflies and moths are in roost because of a big difference between humans and lepidopterans. They don’t have eyelids! Butterflies and moths won’t look like they’re sleeping to us, but there are some behaviors we can see that let us know they’re catching those sweet, sweet Zs.

“Our butterflies clearly respond to the diurnal cycle of day and night,” Uli said. “Butterflies can be observed hanging motionless from leaves and twigs with their wings folded after dusk and during the night, sometimes in large groups. Moths do the same thing during the day.”

Whatever happened to the hippo trash can that talked when you threw something away? I loved it as a child and used to pick up trash just to hear it talk! – Rachel

Truth time. I’ve only been at the Museum for a few months and, while I have learned a lot and get to exercise my science and nature-loving side, I was kind of at a loss for this one. Just kidding, I have amazing coworkers who have a lot of institutional knowledge, and we were able to figure it out.

As far as we can tell, the story goes that the talking hippopotamus trash can (or Litter Hippo as I have taken to calling it) went out of commission in the early- to mid-1990s when it could no longer be repaired. Ultimately, the Museum decided not to replace it.

Shout out to Sherry Samuels and Jennifer Armstrong for the big-time assist.

It MUST be stated that in real life, hippos do NOT love trash. It is never, ever on the menu for them. Do not feed hippos trash. Do not feed hippos full stop.

Have you observed any breeding between your red wolves Oak and Niko? – Veronica

HERE WE GO. Ok, for y’all not in the know, we welcomed two new red wolves to Explore the Wild this past autumn. Niko (male) and Oak (female) came to us from our similarly wolfy pals at NC State University and are a breeding pair, which means exactly what it sounds like. The Museum has a steady history of producing pups with the most recent litters born in 2017, 2018, and 2019, so here’s to increasing the red wolf population in 2023.

Enough from me on this. Here are the experts.

“We have observed breeding attempts with the red wolves,” Senior Director of Animal Care Sherry Samuels said. “We’ve seen mounting several times, but no tie yet. Realize, of course, we don’t have eyes on the wolves every second of every day, so we don’t know if the pair has tied. Regardless, now is the time we just wait and see if we will be fortunate enough to welcome new red wolves to the planet at the Museum this spring.”

Sherry used some potentially unfamiliar words there, so check out Ranger Greg’s blog on the subject to learn more!

Our red wolves, Oak (left) and Niko (right). When I smile, I’m definitely a Niko.

Why is Lightning the best in the world? – nnpow on Instagram

Lightning is a mood, a vibe, a whole aesthetic. There is no answering this question. He just IS.

Lightning the donkey is the way.


That’s all for now, y’all! I hope you will join me next week for more questions and more answers.

If you have a question you’d like answered or you’re looking forward to season three of The Mandalorian as much as I am, you can drop us a note here.