Delicate and graceful are two words often used to describe butterflies. And finding a balance between maintaining attractions that spotlight these poetic, winged creatures, as well as promoting them, can be a practice in all things Mother Nature.
At CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point in San Mateo, Calif., the butterfly garden may not be a major attraction, but it’s one part of a garden and outdoor science exhibit. These exhibits, which feature hands-on displays, help children explore the complexities of nature in an up-close way. The live insect and animal exhibits can be especially educational for younger guests.
“Butterflies are incredibly fascinating to look at with their different colors and patterns, and yet they often seem elusive and flighty,” said Abi Karlin-Resnick, director of business strategy at CuriOdyssey. “Butterfly gardens provide an opportunity for people to see these creatures in a captive environment – a zoo for butterflies.”
Families with children in pre-school and elementary school are drawn to the butterfly garden the most at this Southern California attraction. The exhibit, though small, is a relatively efficient way to captivate young visitors.
“We do minimal maintenance of our butterfly garden, in part because of our garden philosophy, and in part due to cost,” explained Karlin-Resnick. “Philosophically, living in California in an often arid environment, we believe that our gardens should be primarily comprised of low-maintenance, low-water plants. We are trying to minimize the number of non-native plants and the vast majority of our plants are perennials so we don’t have to switch out plants seasonally. We have chosen to work with a landscape subcontractor to help us maintain our garden.”
Keeping with what nature dictates has also been a great way to maintain native species of butterflies in a habitat that matches up with the region. “Rain makes it difficult to spend much time in the garden,” said Karlin-Resnick. “Other than that, I’m not aware of how weather affects the butterfly garden experience, though different local weather patterns and seasons probably impact how many butterflies are attracted to the plants.”
As many as 100,000 people visited CuriOdyssey last year to experience the indoor and outdoor science exhibits, as well as the native wildlife zoo and gardens.
Colorado may be known for its winter sports and film festivals, but at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, it’s all about the insects. “The Butterfly Pavilion offers a unique and interactive experience for visitors of all ages,” explained Leandra Lipson, the pavilion’s vice president of resource development. “There’s something for everyone.”
The pavilion may specialize in butterflies, but really this insect category is vast. “The world of invertebrates is extraordinary and exciting once you learn a little more about it,” she said. “Our visitors have the opportunity to engage with live animals, from our Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula Rosie to Horseshoe Crabs to hundreds of species of butterflies.”
The Butterfly Pavilion also helps to educate visitors about the need for conservation of threatened habitats in the tropics and around the world. As a result, the maintenance strives to reflect the natural habitat and to show visitors why it’s important to conserve resources locally and internationally for the sake of so many fragile species.
“The Butterfly Pavilion attracts visitors of all ages throughout the year – from the very young to seniors,” said Lipson. “We host numerous school groups, summer youth camps, teen interns, senior groups, families, out-of-towners and couples.”
Because the demographic varies, Lipson said they are constantly updating exhibits – especially for younger visitors who are used to multimedia shows and high-tech entertainment. As many as 270,000 people visited last year.
“We do our very best to keep our exhibits up-to-date and engaging,” she said. “Our education team works hard to create fun and interactive signage and programs so that the experience is always fresh and so that visitors learn something new each and every time they visit.”
Different areas of the attraction require varying levels of attention each season. “Maintaining the conservatory (the tropical rainforest where the butterflies live) is quite an endeavor,” Lipson admitted. “We have a full-time horticulture and curatorial team to maintain the plants, animals and structure. We’re actually fundraising in 2012 to help support some structural improvements to the conservatory.”
Weather can also have an impact on the overall maintenance – but it depends on the exhibit. “The Butterfly Pavilion has fantastic outdoor gardens and nature trails that are impacted by weather on occasion, however, all of the live animal exhibits are indoors,” she said, including Crawl-A-See-Em, Waters Edge and Wings of the Topics. “The conservatory is a wonderful exhibit to visit on a cold, snowy or rainy day. What better way to beat the bad weather blues than by walking around a beautiful tropical rainforest filled with 1,500 live butterflies?”
A Backyard Zoo
The Pollinarium at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is part of a popular invertebrate exhibit, which attracts 4,000 visitors each day in the summer. The Smithsonian also has a “Zoo in Your Backyard” exhibit along the main pathway at the attraction, with its own butterfly garden nearby.
“Invertebrates represent 99 percent of the world’s known living species,” explained Jen Zoon, a spokesperson for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. “They’re a fascinating and diverse group of animals that play a vital role in every ecosystem on earth.” At the zoo, the exhibits focus on everything from a giant Pacific octopus and sea anemones to corals, lobsters, cuttlefish and Australian stick insects.
There’s even a member of the Pollinarium whose job is it to care for the butterfly gardens. “We would like to breed butterflies here,” said Zoon, “unfortunately we do not have the space and vegetation necessary to do so.” Instead, the zoo receives butterflies as chrysalides in cocoons. Experts are able to hatch them and care for the adults.
“Because the Pollinarium is an indoor, temperature-controlled exhibit,” said Zoon, “the weather has no direct impact – visitors can see our animals rain or shine.” But, she admits, the insects that have made homes in the “Zoo in Your Backyard” and butterfly gardens are more difficult to spot and do not move about much when it’s raining or snowing.
At Bear Mountain Butterfly Sanctuary, the owners believe that every person’s life can be enriched by a closer connection to the natural world. The attraction was created in 2008 to reach people who may not always have access to science exhibitions in the charming tourist town of Jim Thorpe, Pa. The attraction offers a wide array of programming – everything from workshops and camps to scout badge work and gardening tutorials.
Even the Monarch Gift Shop at the attraction is focused on science, with goods available like shaped suckers, live caterpillar hatching kits, mood rings, souvenir nail files and postcards. “We have a long counter people stand at on their way to the register. These items are displayed there,” said the sanctuary’s owner Mari Gruber, who is – if nothing – dedicated to science education.
The sanctuary, closed until spring when butterflies are in season, offers several opportunities for visitors to learn about the creatures. Hands-on instruction is a big part of what they offer, as well as lessons about conservation and nature.
With guests visiting in spring and summer, a lot of time is spent on programming and upkeep. They even have a butterfly release that allows visitors to release live Monarchs into the natural ecosystem high atop a mountain in the Pennsylvania resort.
Gruber said the gift shop’s own merchandise is also used to enhance the lesson plans taught at the sanctuary. “We have small posters on stands at checkout promoting our hatching kits and postcards,” she explained. Gruber encourages the staff to ask questions and to direct visitors to unique opportunities based on their purchases at the shop.
“We don’t venture too far outside our comfort zone,” she said. But Gruber and the staff maintain what she described as “colorful, eye catching” and sometimes even “humorous displays.” –