Just for Fun

Bigger, Better Butterflies!

by June Portnoy

Thanks to popular demand, the butterfly exhibit, simply called Butterflies!, will return to the Academy of Natural Sciences museum in Philadelphia on Sat., Nov. 4.

Two years ago, this exhibit closed to make room for the Lewis & Clark National Bicentennial Exhibition. The Academy conducted a survey to see if members wanted the butterfly exhibit brought back or replaced by something new. Members overwhelmingly opted for the butterflies.

“Even when the exhibit was gone, people would come in asking for the butterflies,” says Jacquie Genovesi, the Academy’s director of education and living exhibits. “This is one of those exhibits that many people want to see when they first enter the museum, and then return to many times during their visit here. Kids especially love it.”

What You’ll See
When you enter the exhibit hall, your first butterfly moment will be a large model of a black swallowtail butterfly. A key will identify its body parts and you’ll read a series of questions about butterflies to let your curiosity take flight.

Then you’ll walk through the vestibule entrance into the butterfly garden, where you’ll have the unique experience of seeing 200 to 400 butterflies from hundreds of world species flying freely. The garden has been expanded by one-third from its original 900 square feet.

Don’t be surprised if a butterfly lands on your shoulder, especially if you’re wearing something red, a favorite color of the creatures. “The beautiful thing about butterflies is that they can’t hurt you in any way,” says Genovesi.

The setting replicates a Costa Rican garden, with coral stone, a waterfall mural and stone walls and benches. The 80-degree temperature and 80 percent humidity will add to the tropical ambiance.

Photo guides will help you identify individual butterflies. As in the original exhibit, a full-time staff person, as well as volunteers, will usually be available to answer questions. Since butterflies eat fruit and nectar from flowers, you can expect to see these items throughout the garden.

Other New Features
Two computer stations will offer four activities to test your butterfly knowledge. During one game, you’ll have two minutes to build a butterfly habitat and to achieve the greatest possible diversity. In another game, you’ll see a graphic of mountains that range in time from the 1930s into the future. When you click on different years, you’ll see what happens to butterfly habitats due to climate change and understand shifts that can lead to extinction.

Another addition to the garden is a glass-blocked wall that contains a video showing the metamorphosis of butterflies from eggs to chrysalis to butterflies. A kiosk divided into three enclosures shows and compares the life cycles of butterflies, frogs and grasshoppers, three species that go through metamorphoses. You’ll even get to see live butterfly and grasshopper eggs.

Butterflies are shipped to the Academy in the pupae (chrysalis) stage and placed in an emergence chamber. If you look there, don’t be surprised if you see a chrysalis emerge into a butterfly.

“Unlike other insects, the beauty of butterflies makes them very attractive to visitors,” says Genovesi. “They are an excellent ambassador, helping people to appreciate the role of insects in the natural world.”

In addition to regular admission, the Academy will charge $2 to enter Butterflies! 215-299-1000. www.acnatsci.org

June Portnoy is a contributing writer to MetroKids.