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Butterflies LIVE! at Lewis Ginter – Tropical, Educational, and Fun


Butterflies LIVE! at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden offers the sights and sounds of summer all in one package. Where else can you see hundreds of real, live butterflies aflutter?

This dynamic exhibit inspires awe and wonder from visitors young and old. Butterflies fly freely around the humid conservatory and land on flowers, plants, trees, and if you are lucky – you! I was fortunate enough to host a pink-spotted cattleheart (or Parides photinus for any entomologists out there) on my hat for a few moments as I wandered through the misty garden. Visitors have the opportunity to observe the butterflies feeding and learn about origins, life cycles, and habitats. The diverse colors of the various species are beautiful, and if you listen closely, you can even hear the larger butterflies flit by you.

As with other exhibits at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, exploratory activities for children abound: seek-and-find activities (find the four trays of food for the butterflies); hand held magnifying glasses to truly get up close and personal; on-site butterfly ID cards so kids can identify common species; and kaleidoscope-like tools to look through to experience how the butterfly sees with its compound eyes (put that on your list to know for butterfly anatomy for the SOL). Additionally, high-speed motion flip-books exhibiting metamorphosis from chrysalis to butterfly and schematics of butterfly anatomy are available. And if all of these fun activities don’t pique the kids’ interest, there are even trays of Gatorade-soaked sponges for the butterflies to drink, which would impress most kids. After all, who knew butterflies were considered athletes? Adjacent exhibits also highlight butterflies, the Children’s Garden showcases butterfly-inspired activities, as well as butterfly-themed gift shop finds.ButterfliesLive_Lewis ginter butterfly

And new this year, purchase a special butterfly release ticket at the desk for and additional $10 and you can personally release a butterfly from its chrysalides into the conservatory for the first time. Only fifteen tickets will be sold for each butterfly release session, Thursdays, from one to three o’clock. According to Mary Lincoln, assistant butterfly curator, there are approximately 150 to 500 butterflies in the conservatory at any given time.

To be honest, having attended the exhibit in previous years, I wasn’t sure this would be a breathtaking experience for me this time out. However, I wasn’t disappointed, because this exhibit is always changing. I learned new things, engaged all my senses, and the exhibit lived up to its promise – lots of family fun. As we left the exhibit, my husband and I were lamenting how few butterflies we have in our own garden this year. But when we arrived home, we noticed some butterflies flitting by. I am certain we left the conservatory butterflies behind, because the garden staff checked us for hitchhikers when we left. Sometimes all you need is a fresh perspective and a little reminder of the beauty around you so that you can see what’s right under your nose – or proboscis.ButterfliesLive_Lewis Ginter_butterfly

Thinking of checking it out? Here are a few tips before you go:

Butterflies are reportedly more active on sunny days and in the morning and early afternoon, so you may want to plan your visit accordingly. Since butterflies may alight on spectators, any gear that is carried through the exhibit may encourage winged hitchhikers. Therefore, backpacks, oversized totes, and strollers are discouraged. According to their website, there is a place to leave belongings inside the staffed entry; however, the Garden is not responsible for them. Strollers are not permitted, but can be left in the area outside the exhibit. Wheelchairs are permitted.

Included with regular Garden admission or free for members. Please see for additional information.

(Review was originally posted in June 2015)


Fiona Bessey-Bushnell is an occupational therapist and writer who lives in the West End. She enjoys exploring all the exciting places Richmond has to offer with her husband and two sons.

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