Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Different Kind of Butterfly House

Butterfly houses are great places to observe and learn about butterflies. Another stop during our visit to southwest Michigan was a butterfly house at the Sarett Nature Center. Most of the butterfly houses I have visited contain tropical species that we would never see in our American gardens. This butterfly house is different. It housed butterfly species native to North America.


This butterfly house serves as an educational center to local residence, student summer camps, and school field trips by showing them what butterfly species they can attract to their gardens, what nectar plants work best in this region as well as butterflies that they can find in other parts of North America. The butterfly house and plants are made possible by grants from several local organizations and donations.


The butterfly house is a net structure so the conditions inside the butterfly house are the same as outside. Fortunately for us, it had rained that morning and then the sun came out making it humid and sunny. Perfect flight conditions for the butterflies. And they were very active.


I was enamored with a few species that are native to North America but not species I would see in my home garden. The white peacock butterfly's strong hold is in south Florida and Texas where the conditions are more tropical. They are not particularly strong fliers and are less hardy than their cousin the buckeye, which is one I often see in my garden.

white peacock butterfly

Can you see the relation?

buckeye butterfly
Another butterfly found in south Florida is the Julia. It shares the same host plant, passionvine, with the Zebra Heliconian and Gulf Fritillary butterflies.

Julia Butterfly
The Zebra Longwing is another butterfly that is found from southern Florida over to Texas. At night large groups of Zebra longwings roost together on tree limbs.

Zebra longwing
The nature center has a limited license through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This licensing only allows them to have butterflies and these butterflies are not to be released outside the enclosure. That is why there aren't any host plants in the exhibit. But, this doesn't seem to stop the butterflies from trying.

butterflies mating
The nature center orders chrysalis every two weeks from May through the first week of September. Visitors can view the chrysalis through a window. While we were there the docent allowed my children to release some butterflies that had emerged from their chrysalis.

releasing a buckeye butterfly

releasing a Julia butterfly
In addition to nectar plants there are several nectar stations throughout the exhibit. These are made up of a natural sponge soaked in sugar water (4 parts water to 1 part sugar) with a splash of red Gatorade. Apparently, the butterflies like the minerals in the Gatorade drink and, according to the docent, they have tried other colors such as orange Gatorade and red is the favorite.


Oddly, some of the butterflies were very attracted to my son's feet. Not sure if they liked the stinky smell or just the color blue. We had to be very careful walking around because lots of the butterflies hung around in the gravel paths.


This was my first time seeing a Queen butterfly. It is a beautiful chestnut brown color and the white spots reminded me of the monarch butterflies. Like the monarch, Queens use milkweed as a host plant too.

Queen butterfly

One of my favorite swallowtails is the Giant Swallowtail and this one looks like it has been pretty beat up by the weather. It must be challenging to be such a big butterfly trying to maneuver in the winds and rain.


Overall, I was very impressed with this exhibit, although it was heart breaking to see the butterflies trying to reproduce knowing what the outcome would be. This exhibit serves to educate and encourage people to create and preserve the native butterfly habitat which needs all the assistance it can get.

16 comments:

  1. Oh, what a photo opportunity your trip was, I am soooo jealous! I can’t think of anything more beautiful than butterflies – well apart from some of the flowers in my garden maybe…but here in London we only have a few species of butterflies, not the variety I wish for. Great photos, thanks for sharing.

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    1. Helene, my brother lives in London and he has shared a few gorgeous butterflies from his garden. Funny, how we like what we don't have in our own back yard. I'd imagine that your butterfly season is much shorter and they have to be pretty hardy to handle the weather there. I am glad you enjoyed the photos. i am often drooling over the plants that grow in your part of the world.

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  2. Here in Houston, we have the wonderful Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. It is a magical place. It does feature mostly tropicals but has some varieties that are present in North America as well. It's one of my favorite day trips in the area. I love the idea of a butterfly house that features exclusively native species. What a terrific idea and a lovely way to learn about these interesting critters.

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    1. I am sure a butterfly house would find it hard to beat what you can find in your own garden. The tropical nature of Houston must attract some very exciting species, especially the migratory ones.

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  3. You really caught some wonderful clear photos of them. Interesting about the sponge.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Thanks Cher! Yes, I would never have thought of adding Gatorade to the sugar water. I will be giving it a try to see how my butterflies like it.

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  4. There is a Butterfly Conservatory near me in Niagara Falls, Ontario (7 miles away) and love that place. When at the Fling this year, we visited the Conservancy of Flowers which had a Butterfly House. It was a highlight of the trip. The flowers had little pull on me when butterflies were flying all about. You have wonderful photos of the butterflies. I think that is my favorite reason for visiting too, they just sit and wait for their photo op, so unlike the butterflies in the fields one has to chase down.

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    1. Donna, somehow the butterflies in captivity seem to know that they are safe from predators. I can sit and watch the butterflies for hours.

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  6. I have always loved butterfly houses, but have never seen one devoted to North American butterflies. Excellent idea, especially considering the scarcity of butterflies in many areas of the US, especially this year.

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  7. What a great place! Our local botanical garden has a "blooming butterflies" event every year, but I couldn't make it over there this year. Today, the butterflies were very active in my garden--maybe because it has been dry and hot here lately and I've been watering plants a little more--creating puddles for them.

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  8. I've never seen a butterfly like Julia before, its colours remind me of Belgian chocolate.

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  9. What a fabulous exhibit...and a joy to see so many butterflies that are not typically found in our gardens in the North. Great pictures especially your sons butterfly foot.

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  10. Beautiful photos. What a great place to visit and learn more about what to do in your garden to encourage these beauties.

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  11. What a beautiful place! The butterfly houses that I often see are usually a bit ragged. I've never seen a Julia butterfly before, either. So pretty!

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  12. Great series of excellent shots, Karin ! I think we've had a pair of Giant Swallowtails visiting our phlox the last couple of weeks (but I'm no expert).

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