Families can still flutter among the butterflies at the Chattahoochee Nature Center this summer.
The Butterfly Encounter is one of the most popular summer events at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Guests can get up close with hundreds of native butterflies in an enclosure full of vibrant nectar plants and watch these colorful creatures dance from flower to flower. Guests are also able to feed the butterflies with a nectar stick.
To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for visitors, CNC is drastically reducing the capacity of the outdoor Butterfly Encounter tent to ensure space for social distancing. Center-wide policies and procedures have been implemented to off the best experience possible. Tickets must be purchased in advance and guests must reserve a time slot to visit the nature center. Walk ups are not allowed at this time and cash will not be accepted.
A new wildlife habitat has been created around the outside of the Butterfly Encounter and expanding to permanent plantings inside the encounter. The wildlife habitat will provide shelter and food throughout the year to birds, insects and small mammals.
Butterfly Encounter attendants will be on hand to help guests learn all about these pollinators, and host and nectar plants will be available for sale daily so visitors can start their own pollinator garden.
The Butterfly Encounter is open daily until Aug. 2 and is included with General Admission and free to CNC Members. Visitors must purchase admission tickets in advance, which includes a date and time to visit the center. Members will also be required to make a reservation for their visit. The date and time on your admission ticket will double as your designated time to visit the encounter.
The exhibit is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Written by Samantha Kennett, Wildlife Technician June 16, 2020
Citizen Science. It comes in a multitude of forms. You can participate in bird counts with the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, survey for frogs with the Metro Atlanta Amphibian Monitoring Program, even help classify galaxies for Zooniverse. If you haven’t heard yet, there is another local project you can help with, and you can even participate from your very own backyard.
Urban Kings: A Citizen Science Project
The Urban Kings Project is a citizen science endeavor working to understand Eastern Kingsnakes in Metro Atlanta and how they are affected by urbanization. Urban Kings is creating a population distribution database filled with Kingsnake sightings. This is where YOU can help.
Report your Kingsnakes!
Next time you see your backyard Kingsnake, pick up the phone and give Urban Kings a call! Your sighting will go into a population database that helps see where Kingsnakes still exist overtime as urbanization continues to expand. You can then proudly call yourself a citizen scientist!
The Urban Kings Project would not be possible without the continued help of community members and volunteers. We’d like to take this time to highlight just a few of those exceptional folks and ask them some questions about participating in citizen science.
Meet Robert and Becky Carlin: 16-Year-Old Eagle Scout and his Awesome Mom
Robert and Becky have been helping with the Urban Kings Project since day one. Always happy and excited to assist, this pair has dedicated countless hours to helping respond to Kingsnake sightings. Robert has donated his time to other snake projects, and even completed his Eagle Scout project on CNC grounds! Check out what they have to say about citizen science.
What does citizen science mean to you? To me, citizen science means a project that gets normal people who may have never been able to help with a research project to get their feet wet in the world of science in a way that they feel comfortable with.
What kind of impact do you feel like you’re making in helping with the Urban Kings Project? I think that I am making an impact by helping with the Urban Kings Project by being able to work with a project that will be able to help the conservation of not only one of the most interesting snake species in Georgia, but also other animals that have been affected by urbanization.
Have you helped with other citizen science projects? Yes, I also help with Project Pine Snake, which works with pine snakes in the southeastern mountains.
Why should you participate in citizen science? You should participate in citizen science because it is a way for you to help make an impact in conservation and is a great way to get involved in your community.
Why do YOU choose to participate in citizen science? I chose to participate in citizen science because my career goal is to be a herpetologist, so I wanted to get some experience working in field research to see if that was what I wanted to do. I chose the projects that I did because I got the chance to meet the leads for the projects, Samantha Kennett and Bryan Hudson, and was really impressed by their work, so it was an obvious choice when they asked me if I wanted to help.
What does citizen science mean to you? Assisting in helping professionals gather data in our community. Helping others become aware of what all is in our community and how science affects us all on a daily basis.
What kind of impact do you feel like you’re making in helping with the Urban Kings Project? I hope we are helping ease the burden of the data collection process. It is so easy for me and Robert run out to help capture a snake to aid in the Urban Kings research. I think every call we’ve responded to has been within 3 miles of our house. Bryan and Samantha are so busy that I enjoy being able to volunteer and help them out any way we can.
Have you helped with other citizen science projects? No.
Why should you participate in citizen science? To better understand our community and all the aspects in it.
Why do YOU choose to participate in citizen science? I guess you could say Robert has been a good influence on me. I enjoy seeing how excited he is when we capture a king snake and his enthusiasm and passion for helping educate people on how beneficial snakes are to our environment. This particular project is near and dear to me due to my son’s interest in herpetology. I have always loved animals, including snakes. I hope in our small way we are helping snakes be better understood.
Meet Emily Alderman
Emily attended an Urban Kings outreach program at East Roswell library this spring where she met the Urban Kings team. Both she and her dad were interested in the project and have a love and respect for the snakes that share their neighborhoods. Emily’s dad had already reported more than one Kingsnake to the project! Emily has given her time, mileage, and enthusiasm to the project. Check out what she has to say about participating in citizen science.
What does citizen science mean to you? Citizen science, to me, means taking an active role in my immediate environment to help improve the world on a larger scale. The professionals can’t be everywhere at once, so that’s where we citizens can step in to help. Being able to collaborate with professional scientists and wildlife experts is such a thrill!
What kind of impact do you feel like you’re making in helping with the Urban Kings Project? Being able to work with the Urban Kings project has allowed me to further explore my passions for herpetology and wildlife conservation. Gathering data on such an incredible animal not only gives me the opportunity to help educate others on the benefits of Kings, but help to change misconceptions about snakes and reptiles in general. The data collected which shows where these snakes are found, how developed the location is, and where the snakes travel is crucial for this species to survive. It gives me so much hope that future land developments can be more mindful of Kings’ presence and movement patterns, and help create a more sustainable environment for them long term.
Have you helped with other citizen science projects? This is the first citizen science project in which I have had the pleasure of participating, but it has made me all the more passionate and eager to seek out more opportunities to explore, gather data, and improve the world around me.
Why should you participate in citizen science? All humans hold the responsibility to educate themselves about their environment, and we should all strive to make the world a better place for all of its inhabitants. Whether human or animal, we are all on this planet together, and learning how to cohabitate is critical.
Why do YOU choose to participate in citizen science? I choose to participate in citizen science because I love learning, exploring, and educating others on the wonders of our world. Animals don’t have a voice, but this project explores everything that they ARE telling us. This is an incredible project, and I am so thankful to be a part of it!
Science is all around us, and you don’t need a lab coat to contribute. So go outside, breathe in the fresh air around you, listen to the birds, and keep your eyes out for your neighborhood Kingsnake. Today might be the day you become a citizen scientist.
Written by Larry Strott, Canoe Coordinator at the CNC June 15, 2020
The Chattahoochee River starts as a small spring trickling out of an Appalachian Mountain hillside called Jack’s Knob, located about 10 miles north of Helen in Chattahoochee Gap. The tiny pool formed as water flows out of the ground is inhabited by tiny fish. The spring is also recorded as a reliable water source for hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Right from its modest start, the Chattahoochee River supports both natural and human lives. The water follows gravity down the mountain, across the state of Georgia, and eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico about 550 miles south. Hundreds of tributaries make up the watershed that converges into the Chattahoochee River until it becomes large enough to support the needs of millions of people in 3 states. If you live in the vicinity of the Chattahoochee, there is a very good chance that the 60% of your body that is made of water, is in fact, Chattahoochee River water. The river is literally our life blood.
The transformation from the small trickle in the north Georgia mountains, to the beautiful river that flows past the Chattahoochee Nature Center, happens over many miles, growing in size from the many smaller tributaries along the way. The Chattahoochee Nature Center’s transformation from its own modest grassroots beginning back in 1976, to today’s 127-acre facility that touches the lives of more than 130,000 people each year, happened over many decades, thanks to thousands of members, sponsors, and volunteers, building a strong foundation. The river brings life-giving water to nourish our bodies and the Chattahoochee Nature Center provides unique natural experiences to enrich our minds. The Chattahoochee Nature Center Canoe Programs allow people to experience the natural world of the Chattahoochee River up close. In 2019 we had over 900 participants join us on the water through the CNC canoe programs!
Like many people here in Atlanta, the Chattahoochee Nature Center brought me together with the Chattahoochee River as a child back in 1979, when I took a canoe class on Kingfisher Pond. A decade later, still as a young man, I took a naturalist class at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. By this time, I had explored nearly every inch of Bull Sluice Lake in my canoe. My wife and I had our first date at Island Ford, sitting on a rock overlooking the river. We married on the same spot, and after which, I paddled my new bride 3 miles downriver to the Roswell River Landing where we held our reception. Not too many years later we would bring our own children back to the Chattahoochee Nature Center to let them start on their own path of natural discovery. Now I have come full circle and returned to the river and the Chattahoochee Nature Center, as a Canoe Guide. My journey with the Chattahoochee Nature Center has taken me down our amazing river for over 40 years. It has shown that the Chattahoochee Nature Center is not a resource just for children, but an invaluable source of natural experiences for all ages.
Edited by Henning von Schmeling, Senior Director of Operations June 12, 2020
We have all heard the stories of bees and other insectsdying out in large numbers. It’s a mysterious phenomenon, however our buzzing friends are not the only ones facing difficulties in populations.
Pollinators of all kinds – including bees and butterflies – are relied upon heavily in the plant world to, well, pollinate. The relationship between pollinators and flowers is one that most people understand. Butterflies rely on nectar, the sweet liquid found hidden within flowers. As a butterfly lands and sips nectar it unintentionally picks up pollen. By doing that it does the flower a favor by moving its pollen around the garden and ensuring another generation of blooms. While a butterfly may visit a variety of flowers for nourishment, they look for specific plants – called “host plants” – on which to lay eggs. A caterpillar is choosy; it will not munch the leaves of just any plant.
One famous example is the milkweed species of plant. Monarch Butterflies, those bright orange and black butterflies, will only lay their eggs on milkweed, making it essential to their survival. However, if the milkweed is not present when the Monarchs make their annual migration to Mexico, they cannot breed. Likewise, the Tiger Swallowtail, Georgia’s state butterfly, looks for tulip poplar trees, on which to lay their eggs.
Henning von Schmeling, with the Chattahoochee Nature Center, said planning is needed to invite pollinators into a garden.
“Everybody always says that you have to plant flowers since adult butterflies eat nectar, but you won’t raise butterflies unless you have the specific host plants that each species of adult butterfly needs to lay their eggs on,” said von Schmeling.
Even if you live in a subdivision where there are covenants with strict landscaping guidelines, von Schmeling suggests locating a section in the back for a natural garden. Butterflies are repelled, and often endangered, by herbicides and pesticides. They prefer overgrown areas, especially with native plants and flowers of the host and nectar plants they prefer and where they can lay their eggs where the caterpillars will thrive.
Written by Christie Hill, Naturalist Coordinator June 9, 2020
It seems like we have come a long way since people casually tossed trash from cars. However, now that we understand more about what things are biodegradable we are prone to think less of tossing an apple core, banana peel, or french fry out of our moving vehicle.
Think about the food chain all around us. Small mammals feed many of our snakes and raptors and even the insects feed amphibians, other reptiles, and songbirds.
Where can you find these small animals? Anywhere they can find food.
Hopefully we find all of these animals somewhere in our own habitats, to reveal that we live in a healthy ecosystem. Rodents, opossums, raccoons and many animals especially love people scraps, but we don’t want to encourage them to depend on us for food. Also, anytime they wander close to a road to find food there is a danger that they may be hit by a vehicle.
Raptors also depend on those animals for their prey. These birds typically do not hesitate to cross a road to capture a moving animal and are unaware of what is coming.
This is just one more small way we can help to protect the wildlife who share the areas around us.
>> If you suspect an animal is injured, you can call the CNC Wildlife Department at 770-992-2055, press 4. You may also visit AHNow.org to locate a licensed rehabilitator in your area. The Animal Help Now website and phone app covers the entire country so it is handy when travelling.
Written by Christie Hill, Naturalist Coordinator and Kathryn Dudeck, Wildlife Director June 9, 2020
Turtles are amazing animal ambassadors at the Chattahoochee Nature Center and in their honor we wanted to share what to do if you see a turtle trying to cross a road. The Wildlife Department at the Chattahoochee Nature Center saw 250 rehabilitation cases for turtles in 2019.
Turtles are often seen crossing roads as they move within their home range. It is best to not interfere with their progress, but if you see a turtle crossing the road what should you do?
Always make sure you pull over safely.
Pick up the turtle with 2 hands to support the top and bottom shells.
Move the turtle in the direction it is heading and well off the road. If you move the turtle to where it started, it will most likely turn around and cross the same road.
Wash your hands at the first opportunity.
>> Do not remove a turtle from the area you found it. Many have excellent homing instincts and will try to return to their territory.
>>Do not attempt to pick up a snapping turtle. They, like other aquatic turtles, will often travel away from water to lay eggs or find new habitat. Using your car’s floor mat, they will often bite it and you can gently drag them in the direction they are facing.
>> If you suspect the turtle is injured, you can call the CNC Wildlife Department at 770-992-2055, press 4. You may also visit AHNow.org to locate a licensed reptile rehabilitator in your area. The Animal Help Now website and phone app covers the entire country so it is handy when travelling.
Unity Garden staff work hard to maintain garden without volunteer support
By Tracy Begley, Website and Marketing Specialist, and Julie Hollingsworth-Hogg, Horticulture Manager
As CNC begins the process of reopening to the public, we are happy to have visitors back on the property. There were too many quiet days, and we have enjoyed hearing kids laughing and enjoying the grounds the past week. The ticketing and reservation system, plus operational changes, will allow us to provide an outdoor, natural area for our guests to enjoy and also feel like we are taking their health and safety into consideration.
During our closure we still had many things happening around the property. The Operations Department worked hard on improvement projects, such as replacing decking and painting all of the metal railings. The Wildlife Department is providing care for the 100 resident animals that you see on exhibit, and those used for educational purposes. The Horticulture Department is still maintaining the native gardens and greenhouses, and the Unity Garden continues to provide fresh produce to the North Fulton Community Charities on a weekly basis.
Operations at the CNC has 3 departments – Maintenance, Horticulture, and Wildlife, and all 3 departments rely upon weekly volunteers to help with various tasks that support our mission at the nature center.
The Unity Garden has a group of dedicated volunteers that show up each week to help plant, weed, and harvest the 1/4 acre garden. In 2019 the horticulture department, which includes the Unity Garden, had 504 volunteers that provided 4,300 hours. The support of volunteers has been missed greatly. The largest obstacle over the last few months in the Unity Garden has been harvesting. It takes a considerable amount of time for Unity Garden Horticulturist, Christopher Horacek, to harvest alone each week, even with other horticulture staff helping him out.
I talked with Julie Hollingsworth-Hogg, Horticulture Manager, to find out what is currently happening in the Unity Garden.
What is being harvested right now?
The month of May will finish out the cool season crops. Lettuce, greens, carrots, and turnips will finish their growing and harvesting this month.
What is currently in the garden?
At this moment we still have lettuce, greens, carrots, turnips, radishes, and sugar snap peas, but the summer crops are going in. Tomatoes, peppers, carrots, green beans, eggplants, squash, and cucumbers have all been planted or will be going in soon.
How much has been harvested and donated to North Fulton Community Charities in 2020?
We have donated just over 1.5 tons of produce to North Fulton Community Charities to support their food bank for 2020. Last year we donated just over 4 tons. As you can imagine summer will produce larger harvests and donations, which is why it is so important right now to continue preparing the Unity Garden for summer crops even without the help of volunteers.
Just this last week Christopher took over 338 pounds of produce that included 5 varieties of lettuce, mustard greens, turnips, broccoli, and kale. North Fulton Community Charities is serving over 100 families right now. They supply food and personal needs and the families are very appreciative of the fresh produce, and the garden staff has planted specific crops to meet there preferences throughout the seasons.
Until we have volunteers return to the CNC the Horticulture Department and Unity Garden, staff will continue to take care of the garden and make sure that as the needs of families remain in Fulton County the Unity Garden at the Chattahoochee Nature Center will be there to provide fresh produce.
Using digital media and the online world to connect people to nature
By Emma Schell, Scheduling Coordinator
With the onset of COVID-19 and a variety of shelter-in-place orders throughout the country, many educational and nonprofit organizations have turned to digital media and the online world to continue connecting with their customers and audiences.
The Chattahoochee Nature Center is no different. In a surprisingly short amount of time, educators and administrators at the Chattahoochee Nature Center have churned out a variety of programs, resources, and activities in an all-new digital format.
Here are seven ways that the Chattahoochee Nature Center has taken the digital world by storm:
1. Online Spring Native Plant Sale
The Chattahoochee Nature Center’s Horticulture Department hosts two plant sales every year – one in the spring and one in the fall. Traditionally, these sales happen at the CNC greenhouse and Unity Garden, where hundreds of shoppers browse through native Georgia plants, cultivated by the horticulture team.
With shelter-in-place orders issued just days before the Spring Plant Sale was set to begin, the horticulture team and marketing department kicked it into high-gear and converted the entire operation into an online-order, drive-through event.
The horticulture team created an online order form and utilized CNC’s newly improved e-commerce system for payment, and then filled the Center’s parking lot to the brim with the plants that they had sold. Buyers entered the parking lot, drove up to the spot with their name, and loaded their new plants directly into their car.
With this new system in place, CNC’s horticulture team sold 8,347 plants during their 2020 Spring Native Plant Sale. The revenue from this sale helps to support CNC’s horticulture projects, including the Unity Garden, which donates fresh produce to the North Fulton Community Charities Food Pantry every week, even during this time of closures.
2. Virtual Merit Badge Programs
The Chattahoochee Nature Center is a popular destination for scout groups, and it offers a variety of programs to help scouts earn badges and awards.
Two such programs were scheduled for the weekend of March 21st and 22nd, and, rather than canceling these programs, the Community Programs team buckled down and turned their Nature Merit Badge and Environmental Merit Badge programs into entirely digital experiences.
Through a combination of pre-recorded videos, live video chat meetings, and activity sheets with external resources, the Community Programs team helped 25 scouts earn their merit badges while sheltering-in-place at home.
3. Georgia Forestry Foundation Partnership
The CNC’s school program team has partnered with the Georgia Forestry Foundation for over three years to deliver educational after school programs in the metro Atlanta area. These programs focus on forest conservation, forest management, and forestry careers.
CNC’s education team created five different educational videos. Each video focused on a different aspect of forests in Georgia and featured one of CNC’s non-releasable, resident animals in the discussion.
Each video was accompanied by a custom-made activity sheet that encourage students to continue exploring and learning, even after the video ended.
These videos were sent out weekly to 2,317 teachers in Georgia, so that they could continue to connect their students to science, nature, and conservation, even from a distance.
4. The Virtual Nature Exchange
The Nature Exchange is a long-standing staple of the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Located in the lower level of the Discovery Center, it is a place where children and adults alike can indulge their fascination with the natural world and build up an impressive collection that reflects this fascination.
Participants can bring in items from nature to trade, earn points for what they find, and use those points to take home prizes like geodes, shells, skulls, fossils, and more.
Unfortunately, the Nature Exchange’s physical location is closed at the moment to help reduce access to high-traffic, high-touch areas at the Nature Center. But the Nature Center’s ingenuity knows no bounds, and traders can still earn points through the Virtual Nature Exchange.
The process is simple: Traders can post photos and videos of their discoveries on the Nature Exchange Facebook Page, and they will be awarded points by the Naturalists monitoring that page. Once the Nature Exchange reopens, they can redeem their points for all sorts of goodies.
5. Nature Journaling Facebook Series
In celebration of Earth Day, CNC’s education team put together a series of videos on the topic of Nature Journaling. One video was released every week during the month of April, each featuring instructions for a different type of journal entry.
Though the Nature Journaling series is now over, it can still be accessed on both CNC’s Facebook Page and YouTube Channel. Additionally, the education team will continue to post short, educational tidbits each week on the CNC Facebook Page.
6. Virtual Animal Encounters
Though school and community buildings closed in mid-March, the learning did not stop. Teachers and event organizers turned to online tools, such as video chat, to stay connected with their students and community.
It wasn’t long until these ingenious folks reached out to CNC’s education team and asked if they might be interested in joining these chats. Without hesitation, the education team said, “Yes!”
So far, CNC Naturalists have met with five different groups via online video chat, each time bringing one of CNC’s resident, non-releasable animals to the conversation. Participants in these chats get to see the animal up-close, hear what the naturalist knows about the animal, and best of all, ask any burning questions they might have.
The reception of these video chat cameos has been extremely positive – and now the education team is looking to make such “Virtual Animal Encounters” a permanent part of their programming catalog.
7. Georgia Eco-Regions Youtube Series
The Chattahoochee Nature Center is a popular field-trip destination for schools, and one of the most-loved programs is the Georgia Eco-Regions program. When the education team learned that schools would no longer be able to visit the Center for their spring field-trips, they put they heads together and figured out a way to bring this program into the students’ homes.
For five weeks, the education team produced a different video featuring one of CNC’s resident animals and detailing its connection with a different Eco-Region of Georgia. These videos were shared with over 500 local teachers, along with activity sheets that they could give to their students.
Though schools were unable to visit the Nature Center during their spring semester, the education team found new and innovative ways to keep connecting students to nature.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way people connect with the nonprofits and educational organizations in their community, and it has accelerated the adoption of new technologies among these organizations. Though the CNC is now opening its doors once more and hoping to reinstate in-person programs soon, the game has forever been changed.
CNC team members continue to brainstorm ways that they can modify and expand programs in a digital format, and there is an air of enthusiasm about the new possibilities.
Be on the lookout for new and exciting digital offerings from the Chattahoochee Nature Center. The innovation is far from over.
For more than a year, the Chattahoochee Nature Center, The Trust for Public Land, Atlanta Audubon, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Trees Atlanta, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, and Greening Youth Foundation have been working together to get kids outdoors through The Outdoor Foundation’s Thrive Outside Community initiative.
The Thrive Outside initiative is a multi-year grant awarded to diverse communities in order to create or strengthen partnerships between existing local organizations such as schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and nonprofit conservation and outdoor organizations that create repeat and reinforcing positive outdoor experiences for kids and families. The core goal of the Thrive Outside Community investments is to create healthy individuals, communities, and economies by making the outdoors a habit.
When COVID-19 forced the Thrive ATL partners at the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs to temporarily close their doors, we moved our programs on-line so that we could still reach their children. We are now making the programming available to everyone! We use the GooseChase App, available at the Mobile App Store, to share different challenges for young people to pursue. Every week, members of our network come up with dozens of engaging and educational challenges that get kids outside and into nature. Get GooseChase, access the Thrive Outside Atlanta channel, and let the games begin. It’s a fun, free way to get children from Atlanta and beyond to Thrive Outside.
How to join 1. Download the GooseChase iOS or Android app. 2. Choose to play as a guest, or register for a personal account with a username & password of your choice. 3. Search for and select the Thrive Create Challenge game, or search for game code VJ75P7. 4. Follow the prompts to select or create your player profile.
Complete Missions To complete a mission, select it from the list and follow the instructions to receive the allotted points. Sometimes you’ll be submitting a photo or video, while other times you’ll be checking-in at a specific location or solving a puzzle or riddle. Missions change from game to game, but the fun and excitement will always be there.
Remember that while you receive the points right away, all submissions are subject to review by the organizer. Sometimes you’ll even get bonus points if your submission is extra impressive!
Achieve Glory When time runs out, the game may be done, but the fun is definitely not over. That’s because Thrive ATL will still need to announce the final scores after they review the submissions.
As a final treat, Thrive ATL will often put together a slideshow of the best photos & videos. From our experience, this is often the best part and always results in non-stop laughter!
Butterflies have captured the minds and hearts of human beings across time and space. Myths and lore surrounding these creatures date back to ancient times and span across many cultures, from the Japanese to Romans and Aztecs to the Creek and Cherokee. They often symbolize the human spirit, and something about them touches people in an impactful way- something I was able to witness first hand during my first summer at the Butterfly Encounter last year.
There is something about the bright colors, the soundless flight from flower to flower, or perhaps the unfurling of the proboscis (or a tubular mouth piece) that reminds us how strange and delightful the natural world can be. Even their names are whimsical – the Gulf fritillary, Red-spotted purple, Zebra longwing. You can’t make this stuff up!
While butterflies may not be the world’s most efficient pollinators, they are a great species to use as a conversation starter due to their charisma. Butterflies are perching feeders and gather pollen on their bodies as they walk across flower clusters looking for nectar. Studies have shown the time it takes a butterfly to find the nectar of each flower depends on the anatomy of the flower itself, ranging from 10 seconds on a more simple flower, to 20 seconds on a more complex one. When they flit to the next flower, they will deposit some pollen. They do this throughout the day, and even relatively small amounts of pollen exchange add up over time.
The Butterfly Encounter creates an up-close experience with butterflies and it is amazing to see a child-like sense of wonder from our visitors. Visitors young and old can create an emotional connection to these amazing creatures, which then sets off a chain reaction of wanting to know more about them, and perhaps ultimately becoming involved in protecting and conserving them. Just look at how the monarch has become an international symbol for conservation!
Another awesome component to the Butterfly Encounter is that we see people from all over the state who notice and know things that they share with us that we may never have thought of. People come from such a wealth of backgrounds and experience nature through their own unique lens- it’s great for us to be able to be a sponge and then share these perspectives and facts with the next visitor.
An amazing experience we were able to share last summer was the unfolding of the entire life cycle of a Pipevine swallowtail right before our eyes. Many species of butterflies have an obligate host plant, meaning their caterpillars will only feed on one type of plant. Famously, for monarchs this is the genus Asclepias, or milkweed. For Pipevine swallowtails lay their eggs on Dutchman’s pipe and Virginia Snakeroot, both members of the Aristolochiaceae family. We happen to have some Dutchman’s pipe growing near the encounter, and one day one of our encounter attendants discovered eggs. We began to monitor them every day, and got to see each stage of the lifecycle: eggs, multiple instars (or phases between periods of molting) of caterpillars, the chrysalis forming, and finally the emergence from the chrysalis. It was so exciting to have wild Pipevine swallowtails alongside the ones we had in the encounter, and being able to share that with our visitors.
The Butterfly Encounter opens June 6 and this year will become an even more personal experience, as the total capacity of the vented, outdoor tent will be dramatically reduced in order to offer the best experience possible amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Our limited, timed admissions process is directly tied to the encounter experience – the ticket or reservation time procured will also serve as the window in which visitors come to enjoy the exhibit. We will also be replacing our paintbrush style nectar sticks with cotton swabs, preserving the experience of feeding the butterflies while eliminating the high-touch component. Of course, the Butterfly Encounter and its staff will also be following the procedures and protocols put in place for CNC as a whole which can be viewed on the Plan Your Visit page.