A seasonal feature is the enclosed Butterfly Pavilion exhibiting 20 native species of butterflies shown their natural habitats during every phase of their life cycles. Open from late spring to early fall, the pavilion includes species-specific host plants as well as flowering nectar plants that provide the sustenance for the butterflies. The exhibit includes the metamorphosis cycle from mating, laying of the eggs, hatching into larvae and growing into caterpillars, the formation of the chrysalis, and emergence of fully grown butterflies.
In the enclosed pavilion, you can watch the four stages of the butterfly life cycle as they progress from egg to beautiful butterfly. Each species completes at least one cycle with some species producing three generations of adult butterflies.
Newly mated females begin laying up to 300 eggs on a specific plant species in the enclosure, with the larvae smaller than a pinhead hatching in several days. The larvae eat their egg sacks and soon begin feeding on the plant leaf. As they grow they must shed their skins at least four times before reaching maturity, generally in about three weeks. At this stage the plump caterpillars are transformed into a chrysalis or pupa. Inside the pupa complex chemical changes direct the development of an adult butterfly over a period of several weeks.
Freshly emerged butterflies dry their wings and fly in search of a mating partner. During warm summers most butterflies live about three weeks. As heavy frost signals the onset of winter, cold temperatures cause butterflies to be unable to fly and function. Each species has a specific overwintering strategy.
Most spend the winter as a pupa while some hibernate as small larvae. The Mourning Cloak and the Question Mark overwinter locally as adult butterflies, hiding in shelters and holes in trees. Migrating species move southward to warmer climates, while the famous Monarch flies to Mexico to join millions of other Monarchs roosting in trees in the same area where their ancestors have wintered for centuries.
Butterflies are important as pollinators of flowers, transferring pollen from one plant to another, helping plants to reproduce. The sight of our colorful native butterflies feeding on nectar flowers is among the most beautiful of nature’s living wonders.
You may download our Butterfly Guide for use in your educational program or just to use to identify butterflies native to our area.