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60. Butterflies Are Blooming

March 1, 2011

I just love the Butterflies Are Blooming exhibit at Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory inside the Fredrick Mejier Gardens. The tropical conservatory is great place to go for the afternoon without the butterflies if you are tired of the snow and cold its truly like stepping into another world  with the warm climate, the exotic plants, etc. But then the butterflies really make the trip exciting. As you tour the exhibit you see some here and there, some in the cocoons cabinets, some will land on you, or you may just turn into a flock of them. I suggest walking slowly and look at the plants you find some of the most amazing butterflies hidden within the plants. Bring you camera and wear light clothing under your coat because it is warm in the conservatory.

Butterflies Are Blooming

Each spring, visitors flock to Butterflies Are Blooming in the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory—watching the beauteous creatures emerge from chrysalides and take wing.

And each spring, visitors ask questions about the rest of the butterfly lifecycle. This year, those questions are answered right before their eyes. For the first time, the exhibition will show butterfly eggs on host plants, larvae hatching from those eggs and eating their way to full caterpillar status, and caterpillars shedding their skin and pupating—forming the chrysalis from which the butterfly emerges. The lifecycle will be shown in the Grace Jarecki Seasonal Display Greenhouse, which viewers will enter first, before going to see the tropical butterflies in the conservatory.

There will be three display cases containing a combination of butterfly eggs, caterpillars, pupae and adult butterflies. Those same lifecycle stages also can be seen on host plants or at feeding stations that will be mixed in with the flowering spring plantings that make up the perimeter of the Seasonal Display Greenhouse. A docent will be present to answer questions about the experience.

The lifecycle display includes native species due to strict US Department of Agriculture regulations meant to prevent tropical butterflies from reproducing here and perhaps becoming an invasive species. Each tropical butterfly species will only lay eggs on a certain “host” plant, so no host plants are in the tropical conservatory. Without a host plant, the butterflies are unable to complete the reproductive portion of their lifecycles.

In the Seasonal Display Greenhouse, however, visitors will see several native Michigan species going through the lifecycle. Monarch butterflies, for instance, lay their eggs on milkweed. When the larvae emerge, they immediately start eating the host plant, as milkweed is their only food. The growing caterpillar is a voracious eater—its only purpose in life is to eat. Eventually it eats itself right out of its skin—the skin gets too tight and is shed–a process that occurs five times. The caterpillar then settles down to pupate, and the metamorphosis into a butterfly begins. That chrysalis stage—the third stage of the four-stage lifecycle is what is on display in the tropical conservatory, along with the adult tropical butterflies, of course.

Many school groups focus on the butterfly lifecycle as a teaching tool, and a wealth of schoolchildren are expected to visit this year. As usual, the tropical conservatory will feature about 6,000 butterflies representing more than 40 different species from the Far East, Africa and Central America.

Exhibit hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 9 am–5 pm; Tuesday, 9 am-9 pm; Sunday 11 am-5pm.


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