New tropical butterfly garden at the Smithsonian

by Caroline Brown

Yet another reason to plan a road trip to Washington, DC. I haven’t been in at least 15 years, and I’ve been meaning to go visit the museums. Now there’s one more to add to the list: the Smithsonian is opening a $3million butterfly exhibit! The exhibit “Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution” features a 1,200 square foot tropical butterfly garden with approximately 400 butterflies. In the exhibit’s main hall, visitors learn about the co-evolution of butterflies and plants.

All museum visitors can go to the main exhibit hall, but admission to the butterfly garden itself is $6. This is not without controversy, says the Washington Post (sign-in may be required), because no permanent Smithsonian exhibit has ever charged a fee before. The Post says that a Delaware representative has now introduced a bill that would prohibit the Smithsonian from ever charging an entrance fee. (Um….don’t you guys have more important things to worry about? Like say–this, this, this, or this? Stupid.)

Besides, for $3million, I can see why they want to charge an admission. And $6 doesn’t seem like all that much, considering the Post’s description:

Inside, season-defying 80-degree warmth bathes marble walls and sleek stainless steel food dishes of sliced grapefruit. In one corner, a dazzling blue morpho lolls on a halved banana, luxuriating in the humidity — maintained by sensors at 80 percent. Nearby, a trio of cream-and-black paper kite butterflies flutter briskly around a blinding overhead lamp. Sixteen 1,000-watt bulbs approximate “a bright, sunny summer day,” Babbitt says. The lights gradually dawn to full brightness at 7:30 a.m. and slowly revert to darkness 12 hours later.

Also, the museum has to continuously replenish their supply of chrysalises (butterfly pupae, in their cocoons) because butteflies only live a few weeks. Their chrysalises come from as far as Africa, Malaysia, and South and Central Ameria, according to the Post. I don’t know how I feel about this. I like the idea of butterfly pavilions, until I realize that butterflies only live for a few weeks and these will be spent entirely in captivity.

Let’s hope that none of them escape and turn into invasive species! Sounds like the plot of a future Disney movie called Attack of the Killer Butterflies. No! They were thinking ahead:

Exhibit developer Sally Love Connell says the pavilion’s lush plant life was carefully chosen to make sure no host plants — plants that provide a hospitable environment to any caterpillars that may hatch from eggs — are introduced. To comply with USDA regulations, the Smithsonian curtails reproduction by the insects and removes any eggs that are laid on the plants.

Link to the exhibit is here, check it out. If you want to buy tickets to the pavilion, go here instead.


13 Comments to “New tropical butterfly garden at the Smithsonian”

  1. Can I come with you C! This would be incredible to see.

    We have so few butterflies in Canada now; years ago there seemed to be so many more. Probably more impact from climate change?

  2. Anything with a monarch makes me happy (Great photo)! Thanks for the info!

  3. At least those captive butterflies have few worries about predators! To spend one’s life surrounded by beautiful flora and worshiping people doesn’t sound so bad and it may make people more aware of how much they will miss them if GMO with Bt escape into the environment!

  4. Geraldine, I’m glad it’s a permanent exhibit ‘cuz it might actually be years before I get there!

    Hi Mon@rch, love your blog. thanks for coming by.

    Layanee, I hadn’t thought about it that way. Those butterflies are probably safer in there than we are out here with all our pollution.

  5. If you go to DC, I will meet you there. Seriously.

    You should read the children’s book “Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly.” You would love it! Jason does.

  6. Hey Kim! I would love to meet you there. Seriously.

    I never heard of Velma Gratch. I will find her at the library. πŸ™‚ Love you!

  7. I don’t know if I’m missing the credit C, where did this gorgeous photo originate? Sooooo beautiful! πŸ™‚

  8. Hi G., Thanks for the compliment. The photo is from Tower Hill Botanical Gardens when I visited in the fall. It was in a previous blog post on monarchs.

  9. Now I see the photo credits, after checking out the previous post. You did a great job C, capturing the beauty of these monarch butterflies.

  10. Hey, good to know. I’ve heard that the Smithsonian has some new exhibits (I think there’s a really good one on soils either open now or coming soon) — but I hadn’t heard about this one.

  11. I visited the exhibition on Thursday during my holiday from Ireland. It was excellent. Well worth $6. I hope to go again tomorrow before my flight home. This is a must see for anyone interested in nature conservation. Children should be admitted free if with a paying adult.

  12. Hey Brian, thanks for the review of the exhibit . I would love to get down there sometime. I hope you enjoyed your holiday in the States.

  13. Thank you very much for sharing this! I also took my 3 children (6, 4 &1,5 yrs) to the exhibit, while showing them the Natural History Museum, as part of our Home Leave in DC… well worthy! Baby strollers stay outside the exhibit, but it was not a problem, because even the little one was so busy paying attention to the little beauties, that calmly stayed with busy mommy! Greetings from a traveling family, currently in La Paz, Bolivia!

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