Open June 6 - August 2
By Jana Pearce, Visitor Experience Manager
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.
We can’t wait to have everyone back to the encounter which is open from June 6 – August 2. Make sure reservation or purchase timed ticketing before your arrival. It’s truly a celebration of color and whimsy, and it’s full of life- the perfect accompaniment to any summer!