“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Maya Angelou
The sun shining through the conservatory glass causes the butterflies wings to sparkle.
I stand motionless as a vibrant orange creature with dark spots lands gently on my arm. I notice that the underside of the wings contain flecks of silver and white. These delicate animals are like flowers floating through the air.
The Butterfly Estates, located downtown Ft. Myers, is a 3600 sq. foot glass conservatory. It is home to The Florida Native Butterfly Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of Florida’s native butterfly species. It was just the place to explore with my daughter, an enthusiastic travel partner who is fascinated by animals, their life cycles, habits and behaviors.
The conservatory is providing educational programs and research projects which are helping butterfly populations grow and flourish.
We were greeted by a friendly, energetic staff member as we entered. She had an obvious desire to help butterflies as well as share her passion with us. My daughter was in awe of the chrysalis’ suspended in their protected environment. They were each unique. Some deep green and others nearly transparent. The butterfly specialist explained the life cycle of these fascinating creatures.
The life begins as a tiny egg which is laid on the leaf of a plant. We were able to find some of these eggs as we wandered through the conservatory. Butterflies are particular about where they lay their eggs because their caterpillars must eat that specific host plant to survive.
When the egg finally hatches, a caterpillar emerges. The caterpillar will start eating the leaf and will grow quickly. Once the caterpillar is done growing, they form themselves into a pupa, also known as a chrysalis.
An interesting fact about this stage is that the caterpillar takes on a liquid form inside the chrysalis.
Finally, when the caterpillar has done all of its changing inside the pupa, an adult butterfly emerges. The cycle begins again.
The guide explained that each type of butterfly requires a different kind of plant for food. For example, the monarch butterfly’s primary food source is the milkweed plant. The monarch butterfly is endangered due to the reduced availability of the milk weed plant as a result of herbicide use.
Other common host plants include spice bush, thistle, parsley, dill, and fennel.
We learned that by planting a butterfly garden, which involves growing the plants that the caterpillars like to eat and the butterflies feed on, we can increase the number of butterflies in our yard, as well as the overall population.
The plants are sold at the conservatory.
They also provide containers used to protect the eggs and caterpillars from birds and other predators.
The conservatory is a tranquil garden filled with butterflies fluttering freely , a peaceful waterfall flowing into a fountain containing bright orange fish, and benches to sit and relax.
Despite the fans throughout, it becomes very hot in the sunny enclosure. A visit during the cooler months would allow more time to enjoy the butterflies.
Next to the conservatory is a gift shop, ice cream and fudge shop, and the restaurant ZCrepes Café. The Cafe is known for it’s custom, handmade crepes. The menu includes crepes filled with citrus marinated beef, chicken, and shrimp, as well as breakfast and dessert crepes. In addition, they prepare quiches, sandwiches, omelets, and salads.
The children’s menu includes crepes filled with nutella, strawberry, and banana, as well as PB&J. There is indoor dining as well as outdoor dining on a cozy patio.
We decided to appease our sweet tooth and split a Fruit Filled Crepe with Mascarpone. It was served with fresh strawberries, bananas, whipped creme and chocolate sauce.
The Butterfly Estates is open Tuesday through Sunday 10.am-5 p.m. They are closed Mondays.
The rates are as follow:
Adults 17 and up-$12.00
Ages 4-16 – $7.00
Children up to age 3 are free.
Annual memberships are $24.00 for an individual or $60.00 for a family up to 7 members.
The first Sunday of the month is free admission.
A butterfly gardening class is available the last Saturday of each month.
Visiting The Butterfly Estates is an opportunity to develop a greater appreciation for these beautiful creatures. Don’t be surprised if you leave ready to start your own butterfly garden.
All it takes is some milkweed and a little patience.