Butterfly adventures: Our trip to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, plus tales from our own garden

Remember how butterflies were close to topping the list of things Sarah wants us to learn about this year?

In large part, that’s thanks to one of our best experiences from our recent vacation to Washington, D.C. – visiting the butterfly experience at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History.

Essentially, for $5 a person, you enter a biodome full of plants in which there are HUNDREDS of live butterflies. They fly all around; you can see them up close, and (the best part in Sarah’s view) sometimes they even land on you.

We went in twice as a family – and loved it both times.

Blue Morpho butterfly at the Butterfly Experience at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Our favorite butterflies were these blue morphos. The amazing thing about them is that when they fold up their wings, they are a drab brown, and then there is this gorgeous blue surprise inside.

Butterfly Experience at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

This one landed on Chris’s shoulder.

Butterfly Experience at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

… and this one perched on his sleeve.

Butterfly Experience at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

This buckeye landed on my shoulder and stuck around for about 15 minutes. The hard part is, you’re not allowed to touch the butterflies at all to brush them off, lest you hurt them, so occasionally he’d crawl on my neck, which tickled, but I had to just leave him be!

Butterfly Experience at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

There were melons and pineapple in a nectar bar, and some of the species enjoyed those. The great part was that you could easily see them using their strawlike proboscis to suck up the nectar, like the one below is doing!

Butterfly Experience at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Butterfly Experience at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Sarah LOVED having them land on her the most, of course. This poor raggedy-edged Monarch was among the first to do so.

Butterfly Experience at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Butterfly Experience at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Later, Sarah got the buckeye that I had been tickled by earlier!

Butterfly Experience at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

I love this picture. One of my favorites from our vacation, actually.

Butterfly Experience at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Here’s a good full view of what the buckeye looks like.

Once we got home, we had a great wonder of timing – our butterfly weed, which we’d planted back in April, had a couple of caterpillars on it, so we took them inside to our butterfly hatchery to see if we could watch them develop. (We’d built the hatchery in 4-H one or two years ago, but never had anything to hatch!)

Hatching a butterfly from a caterpillar

At first, we had a tiny green caterpillar with a black and yellow stripe down his side (seen in the center of this photo) that might have been a clouded sulphur. Sarah named him (or her?) Olive, but Olive disappeared somewhere in the recesses of the hatchery!

Now, we’ve got two small dark brownish-black caterpillars from the same plant, but of unknown species. I’m hoping I can get a better view of them as they get a little bigger, and then maybe Sarah and I can identify them!

(In other good garden news, we are now also home to a plant affectionately known as pumpkin-zilla that is taking up our side yard in an unplanned adventure from our compost pile; a praying mantis; and a small brown frog. I love seeing all this LIFE surrounding our home!)

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7 thoughts on “Butterfly adventures: Our trip to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, plus tales from our own garden

  1. This post reminds me so much of our own trip to a butterfly conservatory recently! We went to Magic Wings in Massachusetts just a few weeks ago. I agree, the blue morphos are awesome 🙂

  2. Watching the caterpillars develop is a favorite of ours. A few days ago a moth flew into our car and laid eggs on the side molding. We’ve been researching & taking extra-special care to keep them in ideal condition. Can’t wait to see what happens!

  3. The Houston Butterfly exhibit is also great. I have an extensive backyard butterfly garden in SC that attracts many different butterflies, hummingbirds, dragonflies, damselflies, etc. My grandchildren love it. Inspired by their delight and curiosity I wrote The Butterfly Adventure (by Nancy Lorraine on Amazon). It is a story about the adventures of three butterflies as they explore a garden for the first time. The story educates as it entertains. Excellent for home schooling.

    • Nancy, I will definitely have to check that out! Thank you so much for letting me know. I have friends in Texas who’ve spoken highly of Houston’s exhibit as well.

      Good for you for providing such a great backyard haven!

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