A pair of Julia Heliconian butterflies
Paul Wellman

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has undergone a metamorphosis, as it has converted a section of the museum into a vibrant butterfly sanctuary. The exhibit, titled Butterflies Alive!, is a netted butterfly pavilion that allows patrons to experience some of the most colorful winged critters in the world.

The pavilion features more than 1,000 butterflies, many of which are indigenous to Santa Barbara County. The difference between seeing them in the wild and seeing them in the exhibit is that the pavilion offers a closeness that could otherwise never be achieved. Butterflies fly freely around museum patrons and land on their clothing, ready to mistake a pink cotton shirt for a blooming flower.

Paul Wellman

These colorful insects live easily in the pavilion, where they have a robust garden full of various flowers for them to feed on, offering good photo ops for museum patrons. In addition to taking pictures, people can actually feed the butterflies with fresh slices of watermelon and oranges. They will land on the fruit while the snack is being held and suck the juices out of it just like they feed on nectar.

Although some of the butterflies are indigenous to this area, all butterflies in the exhibition are shipped in from a butterfly farm in Florida to ensure that no harm will be done to the county’s butterfly population. The butterflies are transported while still in their chrysalis stage (the final stage of their transition from caterpillar to butterfly) and placed in a special emergence chamber where they can be viewed during their metamorphosis. “If you wait long enough, you might actually get to see nature do its thing,” said the museum’s Public Relations Manager Easter Moorman.

The exhibit is also the focus of the new iPhone application created by the Natural History Museum in collaboration with two Santa Barbara tech companies. This application will give iPhone users a virtual guide that is filled with information on the butterflies in the pavilion.

The butterfly pavilion relies on the summer months to provide the level of warmth that these creatures need to flourish, so as fall approaches, the exhibit, unfortunately, will come to a close. Butterflies Alive! invites spectators to enjoy some of nature’s most beautiful insects, as well as take note of the problems facing butterfly populations, such as habitat loss. According to the Natural History Museum’s Web site (sbnature.org), the Endangered Species Act protects 13 species of butterflies in California, but recently two more species have been faced with the destruction of their habitats.


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