Butterflies are born free and float gracefully in the Butterfly Pavilion at 6252 W. 104th Ave. in Westminster, Colorado. In my childhood, I chased butterflies and caught them with a net if I was lucky. Now, all I need do is walk through the doors of Westminster’s Butterfly Pavilion to discover the enchanting world of butterflies and also insects.
The pavilion’s 7,000-square-foot Wings of the Tropics tropical rainforest is home to more than 1,600 live butterflies and over 200 plant species from around the world. Butterflies emerge from their chrysalides and are released into their rainforest habitat, where they freely flit from flower to flower under a domed-glass roof. Other creatures, such as fish, turtles and hermit crabs, also live here. More than 50 different species of tropical and sub-tropical plants provide nectar and shelter for the
butterflies living in this protected environment. Even on the coldest winter days, computer controls maintain a tropical environment averaging 80 degrees and 70 percent humidity.
As I stroll through the winding path in the tropical butterfly heaven with my grandchildren, we watch the butterflies feeding, and also look down in the bushes for turtles, which we have spotted several times. Many times we stop to sit quietly, hoping a butterfly may land on us. They often do, much to the delight of my grandchildren.
We pause again on a stone bench by a glass-encased display case to watch adult butterflies emerging from their gem-like cocoons. The Butterfly Pavilion purchases about 500 butterfly chrysalides each week from butterfly farms located in rainforests around the globe, contributing over $80,000 annually to sustainable farming operations in endangered ecosystems. These soon-to-be butterflies arrive in express packages to Colorado from butterfly farms all over the world and are placed in a glass-enclosed emergence center. Here they complete their transformation by breaking out of their cocoons to stretch their wings in the bright Colorado sun. It’s quite a spectacular nature show.
It’s not just the butterflies, but also the adjoining Insect Center that delight my grandchildren. Westminster’s Butterfly Pavilion was the nation’s first stand-alone non-profit insect zoo. Its Crawl-A-See-Em area allows children and adults to observe more than 35 different species of arthropods in the protective see-through showcases.
Several of my grandchildren like to hold Rosie, the friendly tarantula. Visitors are allowed to gently hold Rosie under the careful supervision of a volunteer, and receive a sticker they can proudly wear that says “I held Rosie.” Contrary to popular belief, tarantulas are not dangerous to humans and the soft fuzzy spiders may safely be held in one’s hands.
It’s also fun to watch the working bee hive in a protective flat glass case. Thousands of busy bees go in and out, collecting pollen and nectar for the honey in their combs in the summer.
The large aquariums with many types of colorful tropical fish and a goldfish pond in the Waters Edge exhibit room also rate high with my grandkids. While volunteers supervise, children can gently touch and feel starfish, sea urchins, hermit crabs and other marine invertebrates placed in touch tanks. These types of invertebrates live in shoreline tide pools of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The gift shop features novelty butterfly and insect items and educational materials. Proceeds from the gift shop and a snack bar help fund the center.
Before we leave, we walk the Big Dry Creek Nature Trail located behind the Butterfly Pavilion alongside a small creek. The trail is part of the pavilion’s conservation program to restore short prairie grass. It also serves as a sanctuary for many prairie dogs that build their tunnels into the ground and pop their heads out frequently to the delight of children.
Did you know that female butterflies mate only once in a lifetime, and that the males fall asleep immediately after mating? After mating, the female has to carry him away safely to a limb.
Butterflies live for only about 14 days in captivity. Before emerging as beautiful butterflies, they have already lived for several weeks as a caterpillar and a couple of weeks as a chrysalis. In the wild, some butterflies live only three weeks. The Monarch has the longest life span: 14 months.
If You Go
6252 W 104th Ave.
Westminster, Colorado, 80020
Margaret Malsam is a freelance writer who lives in Westminster, Colorado.