Revealing tiny wonderland to visitors: Everland’s insect keeper Kim Sun-jin

Korea’s best-known theme park Everland is home to various animals and this includes some unexpected residents – insects!

Some of these insects can be seen in the summer and winter each year through the park’s Midsummer Night’s Firefly Experience and the Everland Butterfly Garden. While about 10,000 fireflies light up the eyes and minds of visitors in the summer nights, the Butterfly Garden offers a chance to forget the cold winter and get an early sense of spring with more than 50,000 butterflies of four kinds. And the park’s insect breeder Kim Sun-jin is behind all this. 

Long-time dedication

Kim majored in special zoology at university and since 2011 has been in charge of breeding various insects, including butterflies and fireflies, at Everland. He said, “I grew up in the countryside, and because I was very fond of animals, my favorite time when I was young was when I was looking for all kinds of wild animals as well as butterflies and bees. Naturally, I began to study animals while searching for books or documentaries. My mind never changed and I became an insect keeper.”

Kim Sun-jin is Everland’s resident insect expert.

Exhaustive efforts, endless curiosity

Kim explained, “Insects are sensitive to variables such as temperature, food, and environmental changes, and are susceptible to diseases. So insect keeping requires a delicate observation and care in every phase from eggs to caterpillars to pupa to imago.” Accordingly, he does not neglect his efforts with endless curiosity. He sometimes has to collect tens of thousands of eggs smaller than millet one by one using chopsticks, or classify pupae from numerous caterpillars by checking each and every one of them. He also travels mountains and fields to collect plants to feed insects or grow them himself.

Insects go through various stages as they grow.

In order to make up for insufficient materials and data out there needed for insect breeding, he also conducts his own research and experiments and accumulates new expertise. One successful achievement is to find out the preferred colors of each butterfly variety. Butterflies can easily die if they do not eat for a just day or two, so it is important to feed them well. To do this, they used artificial flowers of a color known to be liked by butterflies, to feed them nectar, and Kim was curious about this.

Kim said, “We usually only fed nectar with one color of artificial flowers, but I was wondering if this was correct, so I put transparent containers on various colored papers and recorded the number of times butterflies ate nectar per variety. Cabbage butterflies were considered to like red shades, but unlike the expectations the experiment showed a preference for purple.” Based on this result, Kim helped extend the life of cabbage butterflies by changing the color of the flowers.

The same is true of fireflies. Kim explained, “It was a common belief that breeding them in a dark place during the daytime is good so that they can give out bright light, but the experiment revealed that they emit stronger light when it gets dark when they are sufficiently exposed to bright places.” This discovery was applied to the park’s firefly exhibition.

Kim Sun-jin studies insects using a variety of methods.

‘What if I was an insect?’

Kim’s achievements are based on his tendency to adopt the perspective of “What if I was an insect?” He explained, “Asking this kind of question makes me realize that I am accustomed to thinking from a human point of view and see things in a new light.” After becoming a zookeeper, he also redefined what he thinks love is. Kim said, “Many people think that if they love animals, they can be a zookeeper. It is not wrong, but what zookeepers do can directly affect the lives of animals. Beyond just adoring animals, one should do one’s best with expertise and a grave sense of responsibility for life.”

Kim said, “Insects may look trifling to some people, but if you look closer they are full of wonders that cannot even be described in human words,” and adds that being able to encounter the beauty of them the closest and get to know it every day is his biggest pleasure. He is also grateful for being able to convey what he has learned in this way to those visiting the park. He said, “I feel rewarded especially when seeing children watching the butterflies with twinkling eyes.” Kim will continue his constant efforts to better love insects and provide a beautiful live experience to visitors.

Kim Sun-jin and his staff pose for the camera at the Everland Butterfly Garden.
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