Butterflies on display at Dow Gardens


They're Mother Nature's flying flowers. Butterflies are captivating for so many reasons.

Entomologist, Elly Maxwell, is one of their guardians here at Midland's Dow Garden's butterfly exhibit, "This is the first sign of spring. We start before the weather breaks; and, butterflies are very symbolic."

The exhibit is here for five weeks every spring. We normally see wild butterflies during the summer in Michigan, but not many of the over 100 species on display here.

"We get butterflies from all over the world, "Maxwell says, "We get them from Florida. We get them from Alabama. We get them from Costa Rica. And, we get them from Africa and Asia."

Here you'll find butterflies at every stage of life, a magical metamorphasis from chrysalis- which is the stage between caterpiller and butterfly- to adult butterfly, called imago.

"We recieve them from farms in the chrysalis stage. So, farmers pick them off of plants, package them up and they send us the chrysalis, where we keep them safe in a chrysalis case, and then they emerge and fly as butterflies," Maxwell says.

Depending on their size, they are in the crysalis stage for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, she says, "And some of the ones that have been resting all winter, like our native species, the swallowtails, it takes them at least a month to warm up and wake up and want to emerge."

They live, only a few weeks as butterflies, feeding, Maxwell says, on flower nectar, "They don't have teeth. They have a coiled tongue called a proboscus."

There are feeding stations set up in this display, but all you need in your garden are flowering plants with nectar. You can attract different species with specific plants, that they use as hosts for their babies.

"You want a spice bush swallowtail, you start planting spice bush," Maxwell explains.

They seem almost fearless, un-fluttered by the roar of hundreds of tiny admirers flocking this exhibit.

But, Maxwell tells me, hearing is not a butterfly's most heightened sense, "Some butterflies may have hearing. But they're largely visual. The way they like to communicate is with colors and seeing each other, and finding mates by color, largely."

The darker undersides of those colorful wings offer protection- camoflage- from potential predators.

If you want to see the butterflies in their full splendor, they will be on display at Dow Gardens through April 15th.

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