The winter’s been brutal. But if a tropical trip isn’t in the cards, how about someplace warm and humid and filled with butterflies? Two Metro Detroit exhibits offer the weary precisely that blissful therapy, while a Grand Rapids show will open March 1.
“Wish Upon a Butterfly” at Detroit’s Michigan Science Center is a hands-on experience that includes a tent full of live butterflies native to the Midwest plus the 3-D IMAX movie “Flight of the Butterflies.” It closes June 1.
Ten miles north, the Butterfly Garden at the Detroit Zoo can take you from stressed to zen in a matter of minutes. The great, glass-enclosed space is several stories high, overgrown with exotic foliage and inhabited by hundreds of tropical butterflies — all strangers to Michigan — bobbing in moist, 80-degree air.
“We’ve got two to three-dozen tropical species,” says exhibit supervisor Stefan Mantyk, plucking an unlucky butterfly out of a pond, “and at any given time 200-500 butterflies.”
Of the two exhibits, the permanent Butterfly Garden is the more therapeutic, particularly in winter when you often have the room all to yourself and it’s hard not to slip into a meditative trance.
The Science Center’s exhibit is smaller and less dramatic, but well-calibrated to kid scale and interests. The winding show opens with a fun photo op (“Look, Mom — I’ve got Monarch wings!”) and closes with a souvenir crafts table.
Along the way, handy microscopes allow for close inspection of late butterflies. “They can examine antennae, mouth parts, eyes and wings,” says director of education and outreach Julie Johnson, who organized the show.
Depending on the week, the sanctuary — a medium-sized party tent — will be filled with 500-600 American Painted Ladies, Red Admirals, Black Swallowtails, Viceroys and the celebrated Monarchs.
Despite being indoors, “we lost a lot of butterflies in that super-cold snap a couple weeks ago,” Johnson says. “We don’t know why.” Happily, replacements arrive every week or two from a Pennsylvania butterfly farm.
Inside the tent, trace the butterfly life cycle through Caterpillar Junction and the Emerging Station, where chrysalises hang on a string waiting to blossom.
For fun, dip fingers in the nectar bowl and thrill to butterfly feet landing on your fingertips. (Word to the wise — “That’s where their taste buds are,” Johnson says.)
By contrast, the Zoo’s Butterfly Garden overwhelms with grandeur and tropical exotics, whether Grecian Shoemakers or White Morphos. Keep an eye peeled for the Owl butterfly, which looks disturbingly like a bat.
The Chrysalis Chamber, with dozens hanging from wooden racks, is otherworldly and a bit sci-fi. One chrysalis looks made of lime-green plastic, while another shines like brass.
In Grand Rapids, “Butterflies Are Blooming” opens March 1 in the five-story Tropical Conservatory at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Filled with 7,000 tropical butterflies — 10 times the zoo’s population — representing 40 species, the show also has a good display of chrysalises that bear watching.
“Right before the butterfly’s about to emerge,” Meijer Gardens spokeswoman Andrea Wolschleger says with a laugh, “they start to twitch. It’s kind of creepy.”
'Wish Upon a Butterfly'
9 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday through June 1
Michigan Science Center
5020 John R, Detroit
Tickets $16 adults, $13 kids (2-12); $18 adults, $15 kids
for exhibit and 3-D IMAX “Flight of the Butterflies”
10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
daily after April 1
8450 W. 10 Mile, Royal Oak
$14 adult, $10 kids (2-14), $10 seniors
(62 and up), $10 active military, members free
'Butterflies Are Blooming'
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday -Saturday;
9 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday March 1-April 30
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
1000 E. Beltline Ave. NE., Grand Rapids
Tickets $12 adults, $9 seniors & students, $6 kids (5-13),
$4 kids (3-4), members free