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After Work: Hurray, Another Butterfly House Is To Open

...The lifespan of a butterfly is about fourteen days. In the wild it would be far shorter.

They have to be replenished constantly. Some are imported and can cost as much as $15; others are $2 to $3 a piece. That’s six to nine thousand dollars a week worth of ephemeral beauty, not counting the cost of the care of the thousand butterflies and moths raised on the premises...

Lucky Dona Gibbs delights in a visit to a Florida butterfly house.

For more of Dona's colourful columns please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

“The media never plays up the good news,” I hear people complain.

While the papers are filled with wars and disasters and the local television stations blare news of fires, traffic smash-ups and robberies, there are spots of good news.

Here’s one story that I found especially cheering. By 2011 the world will have another butterfly house. Businessman and renown lepidopterist Clive Farrell is building a butterfly center near St. Albans, Hertfordshire, UK. The cost of the structure is expected to be twenty-five million pounds. It will open in stages between 2009-2011 and will be home to 10,000 tropical butterflies as well as native species. That will make it the largest butterfly facility in the world.

Farrell likens butterflies to “canaries in a coal mine” and lamented to a reporter from The Independent, a British newspaper, that Britain’s butterfly population had declined by 75 percent during the last two decades and that five species of butterflies and 60 species of moths were now extinct.

He believes that the “declines indicate an underlying destruction of the environment as a whole.”

If I were writing for the mainstream press, I would probably lead with that grim sound bite, right?

Lacking the patience to wait for the St. Albans’s exhibit to be completed and the money for plane fare to London, Italy, Colorado, Kenya, Hong Kong, Malaysia, British Columbia or even St. Thomas – all spots where butterfly houses can be found—I hopped in the car and headed to Pompano Beach, Florida, about an hour’s drive from my West Palm Beach home.

Tradewinds Park is home to Butterfly World, a ten-acre park that includes six outdoor aviaries, gardens, two indoor museums, an insectarium and a live bug house, which has an appropriate yuck factor. Off limits to tourists is a butterfly farm, where many of the butterflies are raised.

You can also feed koi, offer nectar to lively lorikeets, bob on a small suspension bridge, enjoy a brief misty shower in the rain forest and prowl in the gift shop. In fact, like most attractions, you can only exit through the gift shop. It full of knick-knacks featuring, you guessed it, butterflies.

Butterfly World is the result of a retired electrical engineer’s dream. Ronald Boender, originally from Illinois, found himself bored and in need of a project. He started MetaScience Co in 1984 and began raising butterflies for sale to universities and zoos.

Not one simply to dabble, he visited London’s famous butterfly house and met with Clive Farrell. He then embarked on building Butterfly World. It opened with only 300 butterflies in 1988.

Today at least three thousand butterflies and moths flit through the screened park, a fantasy tropical rain forest. Until Farrell completes his St. Albans project, Butterfly World can claim to be the “ largest butterfly park in the world.”

“My problem is that when I get interested in something I go overboard,” Boender told New York Times reporter Melvin Rothstein when he wrote about the attraction in 1990. That’s far from an understatement.

Noting a connection between passion flowers and certain species of butterflies, Boender has amassed one of the largest collections of these exotic flowering vines in the world. As a founder of Passiflora Society International, he even has one named for him, the Passiflora boenderi.

The lifespan of a butterfly is about fourteen days. In the wild it would be far shorter.

They have to be replenished constantly. Some are imported and can cost as much as $15; others are $2 to $3 a piece. That’s six to nine thousand dollars a week worth of ephemeral beauty, not counting the cost of the care of the thousand butterflies and moths raised on the premises.

Since these wonders are hand raised they have little fear of humans. They often lit on lucky visitors. Screens, double doors and puffs of air keep them from escaping although sometimes one will attempt to hitch a ride.

An older woman in an official looking Park Ranger getup scanned visitors for escapees.

Oops, a Common Rose -- as I had just learned, flew out as I opened the first of two doors.

Laughing, she deftly scooped it up with her butterfly net. She seemed to like her job.

There’s a lot to be learned about butterflies and moths. For instance, I found out that they’re picky eaters. Certain butterflies are attracted to certain plants. The butterflies feed on the nectar and lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch and the caterpillars emerge, they feast on the plant.

As you no doubt remember from your biology classes, the pupa stage comes next. From the pupa emerges the butterfly and the cycle is complete.

There are several glass cases with pupas. If you’re lucky you can see a newly hatched butterfly drying its wings. Unfortunately, these are at an adult’s eye level.

Not to worry. If you’re game, you can buy a pupa for the kids and hatch it at home.

Here and there were little stands with bananas sliced open. Huge moths were chowing down intently. Several people touring with me thought they were simply sculptures. It was only watching carefully that you could see that they were dining enthusiastically.

Probably the best way to enjoy a butterfly house is to find a bench and sit down. You’ll soon find yourself surrounded.

A silver-haired man and woman had done just that. Dew drops twinkled on the dark green foliage behind. Butterflies swooped and circled. The couple was smiling.

And that’s why another butterfly house is good news indeed.


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