Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jumalon Butterfly Sanctuary Tour: Inside the House

This is the most educational butterfly collection or display I have so far seen in this country, though it does not have hundreds or thousands of colorful fluttering insects nor a grand big big screened cage. Fact is Jumalon Butterfly Sanctuary is an open-air garden, has fewer live butterflies that what you would see at Baguio, Palawan, Marikina, Subic, New Washington or Davao. But the history, variety and number of specimens they keep tops all of those, combined!

Plus, there is an awe-inspiring collection of artworks made from butterfly wings. Yes, colorful butterfly wings painstakingly laid down on a canvass, one at a time, to become mosaics! Here’s my story…

Reaching the gate, there seemed to be no guests inside and I smiled at the opportunity. I pressed the doorbell button on the right (there are two), it’s blue light flickered though I did not hear anything. I pressed the “older” button on the left and it let off a loud ringing school-bell sound that even surprised me to near panic hehe! But no one came. All I could hear was some cleaning activity at the roof. The place is nothing fantastic by the way. It is just an old residence surrounded by a garden. After about 2 minutes, I pressed the loud bell again. When a man came out, he opened the gate to let me in and said sorry it took long for them to see the door.

The man sounded like the very person I talked to when I earlier called. He asked me to register on the logbook and wait a while as the tour-guide is still up on the roof helping out clean it from fallen leaves. So we chatted about Julian Jumalon, his father (thus, actually my tour already started at this conversation). As we talked, I fished a hundred pesos from my pocket, but he told me to just pay later as the tour guide keeps the change. Looking up to the road, some vehicle seemed to be slowing down so he asked how many we were. I said I was alone but wouldn’t mind if we waited for those new arrivals. We chatted more (and my educational trip continued) as we waited for 1) the tour guide and 2) those new arrivals.

What actually started my conversation with the man is that framed list of Julian Jumalon’s expeditions just outside their home’s main door. I asked about those expeditions and voila, the man I was talking to, Osman, son of Julian peppered me with history. Like what did I learn at that point? Too many…

Julian Navarro Jumalon was never a scientist. He was graduated from UP Fine Arts and taught arts classes at UP and later other schools including University of San Carlos. He was originally from Zamboanga and his wife was from Zambales. The desire to paint those beautiful insects led him to what became his famed life – a respected lepidopterist! He helped scientists, laboratories and museums around the world discover unnamed species. His expeditions were not just local. He was invited by other scientists from everywhere to help them in identifying butterflies, describe their behaviours, their food and desired living conditions. All along, he was an art professor!

We entered the house for Osman to show me the family picture and just in time, the “other” tourists joined us. He hesitated a bit ready to call the girl tour guide but he decided he’d be our tour guide as he did not want to cut our already animated conversation. The other two guests were a European husband and a lovely bisdak wife! So we proceeded. Oh, it was the living and dining areas of the house that we went into. Walls and shelves were tacked with many framed butterflies. moths and insects – from the biggest to the smallest, the most colorful and the most dull, the most abundant to rarest and extinct.

Butterflies are mostly framed in pairs – the bigger less colorful females and the smaller but more vibrant males. He would explain where each butterfly can be found, the food they eat and other interesting facts. He even shared how his father acquired those that came from far lands like South America, Papua or Australia. They were all sent in by fellow collectors and scientists from other countries. Ah, yes, he even has a story that a Japanese collector and friend of his father came to criticize why some “important” (and agreeably beautiful butterflies) were tacked at 6 individuals in one frame. The Japanese purportedly said they should be at least in pairs if not individually framed. But, though well established professionals, the Jumalons are not wealthy to be able to buy a lot of frames.

And as the framing “stories” continued, Osman led us to that blue cabinet that I thought was just another cabinet or bookcase of the Jumalons. When he opened a door, OMG, there were frames stacked as drawers and you guessed it, they all contained hundreds and hundreds of butterflies and moths in various sizes, colors, shapes. I immediately thought why cram all those specimens in such frames… but Osman already mentioned it that the family has yet to have the necessary funds to get those insects respectable framed as they should. While showing more butterflies as part of the conversation, he opened more cabinet doors that also contained too many specimens in drawer-like frames… and OMG hair all over my body were standing in extremely overwhelmed awe!

I learned too many new things as he explained them to us. Like they have to painstakingly apply chemicals on each butterfly to ensure longevity at its preserved state, put naphthalene on each frame, name each individual, tag it and pin it to the board. Gosh even the pins actually have a story – you cannot always just use any commercially available pin. There are required sizes and types to minimize deformation of the insects especially the tiny ones. But I mustered, the tagging must have been most excruciating with them writing names and codes on those tiny bits of paper. Wow!

What else? Well, a lot else I am not sure I will be able to recall everything I saw and heard during the tour. And we were just in the house (yet). Like, moths are nocturnal while butterflies are diurnal. While most moths are dull and most butterflies are brightly-colored, the most colorful living organisms on earth are actually moths! Wow! And there is a frame of moths with a lot of colors in their wings! Hmm, I thought them moths are all brown or varying shades of brown like those big big ones we see often hovering at streetlamps or those little pests that make a way to our cabinets! Golly!

Heres more... some butterflies have acquired unique camouflage techniques to avoid prey, thus, some have wings that are differently colored on top and at the bottom. The colors in these insects’ wings are not all for attracting mates but many are to avoid being eaten! Thus there are wings that have big dots so that when birds are imminently targeting them for food, they invert to reveal those dots that look like the eyes of an owl – which preys on birds haha! Some butterflies can even just clip their wings together to look like leaves or dried leaves - but the birds want insects hehehe! Wise flutterers, indeed!

The learning experience continued with the colors and shapes and we were shown that the butterfly family can even spell the English alphabet and all numbers with the different patterns and shapes in their wings! Whoa, and we were shown a board with those details.. many of them magnified. Oh, those colorful powdery material on the butterfly wings are called scales. That when you remove them – which can be easily done accidentally or by purpose – what remains is a transparent netlike “skeleton”! Wow! And that is what makes handling butterflies all the more delicate if you want to preserve their colors and patterns!

There are other insects like beetles and other bugs. Though specimens are properly preserved and tagged, they take the backseat as butterflies are topbilled in this house! BTW, since its formal name is "Jumalon Butterfly Sanctuary, Museum and Art Gallery", we could say that inside the house is the "museum". Hah, instead of their home's living area, give them a building worthy to be called museum and those frames can really fill a big one. But as for now, most of the framed insects will remain stacked inside the blue cabinets that are of course not even fire proof! A scientific treasure in danger of peril.

Alright, we went out into the garden. And that’s my next blog entry!

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