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Botanic Paradise’s Waterdragon, Giant Tarantula and Birdwing Butterflies

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-09-15

A 2 x 1.5 meter giant hairy brown tarantula doing body squats and waving its legs around greets visitors to the Butterfly Pavilion at the Southeast Botanical Gardens. The monster is powered by air pressure and is the first of many surprises this venue has in store. Once inside the Butterfly Pavilion there are no tarantulas but plenty of beautifully colored creatures flying around our heads and landing on our shoulders. Visitors get a close-up view of all stages of these exotic creatures lives, from chrysalis to caterpillars to gorgeous flying creatures.

Some of the insect life is confined behind glass in carefully controlled conditions. But there are also pupae attached to leaves of trees growing within the area people wander around in. One of these is the Leuconde Chrysalis, a Japanese species that is a beautiful shiny gold with black spots, at the cocoon stage. Specialists can be seen unpacking boxes of cocoons from southeast Asia and South America and taping them to tree leaves.

Some of the species in here are very large, like the Goliath Birdwing and Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing, from Borneo, with yellow triangles on black wings. The Birdwings are named for obvious reasons and are believed to have got their names through being shot at by hunters mistaking them for birds. The Bugs Wonderland is another interesting part of the Gardens. It has species such as the Orchid Mantis, a small pink insect, uncannily resembling a flower, crawling around on a real purple orchid. Another mantis, white colored, is chomping its way through a moth.

The Botanical Gardens organized their Bugs section through a British company with expertise in this area. The Botanic Gardens told Japan Update they believed that Americans although liking butterflies and animals had a prejudice against bugs and would not be interested in seeing them on display. I am sure this impression is wrong, as the Bugs Wonderland has no overwhelmingly disgusting looking creatures. Rather, the insects you see such as Hercules Beetles (as large as mice) are fascinating to watch, feeding on tree resin and negotiating their realistic looking terrain.

There is plenty to interest children in this section, like a dog-sized replica of one of those beetles on a stage, attached to a rope. Children can have tug-of-war contests against it. They can also have their photos taken riding on the backs of simulated Hercules Beetles. The Wonderland is also not confined only to creepy-crawlies. There are tiny tame hamsters from Syria, black, white, gray and oval shaped which children can pet and strange, exotic looking rabbits. The lady in charge of the rabbits and hamsters also gives instruction in how to paint pebbles with animal shapes and faces.

Bugs Wonderland has the Jungle Cafe for those in need of refreshment after all the natural historical exposure. It offers fresh mango, passion, papaya and pineapple juices, as well as a concoction called “Love Egg Jelly Juice” at ¥500 a glass. There is also a selection of beer, coke, mineral water, ice cream and snacks.

In the outside areas between the pavilions there are lakes and palm lined paths through tropical vegetation. In South East Paradise on the way from Bugs Wonderland to the main buildings, there are some amazing geckoes and chameleons. Most people in tropical places have seen these lizards before. The ones at the Botanical Gardens are however in a different league. The Plumed Basilisk is a 15-inch dragon like chameleon from Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama. The Madagascar Day Gecko has bright green and red spots on its back and head. Bright red lines ran from jaw to eye line. Safely in their cages is a black chunky scorpion and a Rose Hair Tarantula which normally lives in Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. Looking like a mini-dinosaur is a giant chameleon called the Indochina Waterdragon whose habitat is South China, Thailand and Indonesia. In summary, in the Botanical Gardens there is much to interest anyone with only a casual interest in plants, flowers, insects and animals and a lot to delight children. In addition the gift shop has some interesting items like mechanical wind-up Hercules Beetles, a flapping fish on a board, gold and silver grass hoppers which sound like music boxes.

Directions: After the Kadena Gate 3 intersection, going in the direction of Chibana Housing, make a right. At the intersection for Camp Shields, keep right and follow the road to the next stop light. Turn left at the light and follow the brown wooden signs for the Southeast Botanical Gardens.

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