Escape the Cold Among Butterflies

Posted February 13, 2008 at 4:08pm

Does taking a stroll through a tropical garden filled with vibrant flowers and exotic butterflies sound like the perfect way to beat the gloomy weather this weekend?

No need to book a flight just yet. “Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution” opens Friday at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

The permanent educational display features an interactive exhibition hall that examines the joint role of certain species and plants in the evolutionary process and a 1,200-square-foot live butterfly pavilion.

“It’s our hope that visitors will come for the butterflies and they will linger because they are fascinated by the story of how the process of co-evolution has shaped the natural word,” Smithsonian Research Entomologist Ted Schultz said.

The exhibit’s 400 butterflies and moths flutter freely around the tropical pavilion, which is heated at 80 degrees with 80 percent humidity to mimic the species’ natural environments. The butterflies feed on sugar water, rotten fruit and Gatorade and, occasionally, land for a spell on an unsuspecting visitor.

Visitors also can observe the life cycle of a butterfly firsthand, watching the growth of butterfly chrysalides through the glass transformation station. Newly hatched insects are introduced into the pavilion once they emerge from the chrysalides, which are shipped to the museum from across the globe to ensure a diverse and growing population.

“‘Butterflies + Plants’ brings the museum’s mission to life by inspiring curiosity and discovery about the natural world,” said Elizabeth Duggal, associate director for external affairs and public programs, in a statement. “Visitors of all ages will undoubtedly feel the flutter both during and long after they have experienced this wonderful exhibition.”

“Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution” opens at the Museum of Natural History on Friday. Tickets to the butterfly pavilion are $6 for adults and $5 for children, and can be purchased online at butterflies.si.edu. Entrance is free on Tuesdays. The museum is located at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest and is open daily from 10 a.m to 5:30 p.m.

— Torey Van Oot