Butterflies leave people bug-eyed

Sunday, February 17, 2002

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. -- How long does a butterfly live? That's the most often asked question at Butterfly World, the largest center of its kind in the world.

The center, which includes a laboratory and museum, is home to thousands of butterflies, several species of moths and dozens of species of exotic birds and plants. It attracts people from around the world, all eager to experience the wonders of some of nature's most beautiful and graceful insects.

To answer the question: Onsite experts explain that butterflies can live up to 14 days at Butterfly World. In the wild, some live three days, some live three months. The average life span of a butterfly is about a week to 10 days.

Many visitors bring cameras to capture the beauty of the center's inhabitants. Some are lucky enough to have their pictures taken with butterflies that land on their head, hand or shoulder.

Something for everyone

Located about 30 minutes north of Fort Lauderdale, Butterfly World is divided into several areas.

Laboratory: This is where it all begins for the butterflies at Butterfly World. Behind glass enclosures, wide-eyed visitors get to see the different and amazing stages of metamorphosis from eggs, to caterpillars to pupae to adult butterflies. Research also goes on in the lab, where experts have developed successful techniques for butterfly farming.

Paradise Adventure Aviary: Fluttering around in this area, filled with lush plants and colorful flowers, are countless butterflies from five continents. I photographed giant swallowtails and the unmistakable, bright blue morphos butterfly. But one of my favorite subjects was the atlas moth, which, with a wingspan of about six inches, is one of the largest moths in the world. More than a few of the friendly flyers landed on visitors, giving them an unexpected treat.

Hanging Garden and Butterfly Emerging Area: Lining the pathways in this area are baskets filled with flowers and plants. Each day, visitors marvel as new butterflies and moths emerge from the safety of their cocoons. It's here I took my best posed photographs, because my subjects hardly moved an antenna.

Tropical Rainforest: I've been to the steamy rainforests of Costa Rica, Thailand and Palau. The high humidity in those places made me sweat and created fog on my camera's lens (which I was prepared to wipe off with a lintless cloth). The Tropical Rainforest at Butterfly World area simulates the real topical rainforest beginning with a mild steam bath as you enter the area. In addition to watching the butterflies, you can feed the fish in a mini-tropical lake.

Grace Gardens: Angel's trumpet, tropical snow, African sunflower, bougainvillea and bleeding heart are the names of just a few of the dozens of flowering plants that line the path around a lake in this area, named after the wife of Butterfly World's founder, Ronald Boender.

Wings of the World Secret Garden: You have to have a quick eye to see the hummingbirds darting around at up to 45 m.p.h. in this area -- and an even faster camera to capture them on film or digitally. There are also honeycreepers, which are often mistaken for hummingbirds because both species have long, narrow beaks.

English Rose Garden: Like to stop and smell, and perhaps photograph, the roses? Spend some time in this area, where about 20 different species of roses bloom throughout the year.

Lorikeet Encounter: Purchase a cup of nectar at the Lorikeet Encounter and you'll find these rainbow-feathered friends eating right out of you hand. While they are snacking with visitors, they seem to be clowning around, twisting and turning their heads in different directions.

Museum: Several hundred species of insects are on display in the museum, giving visitors an up-close look at the markings and anatomy that distinguish individual species, and males and females within a species. The combination of facts and science makes the museum fun and very educational.

Butterfly Gardening Plant Shop: Many home gardeners, including my wife before I shared the following information with her, think butterfly bushes are the key to attracting butterflies. Actually, caterpillar food plants are the key to starting a butterfly garden, which does need food plants to keep the butterflies in the area. In the shop, many different kinds of caterpillar food plants are available.

So if you are in South Florida, plan to make a visit to Butterfly World. You'll not only have a unique experience and get great pictures, you'll learn other interesting facts about the center's inhabitants, including: hummingbirds can fly up to 45 m.p.h. and that one difference between butterflies and moths is that butterflies usually rest with their wings folded, while moths at rest usually have their wings open.

If you bring the kids, plan on spending two or three hours. You can snack at the Butterfly Cafe and pick up some souvenirs at -- where else -- but the Caterpillar Canopy Gift Shop.

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