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Flutter with the Butterflies in Fort Myers

Flutter with the Butterflies in Fort Myers

Coming to this conservatory is a game changer. No doubt about it. What happens here with butterflies is both intense and beautiful.

The Florida Native Butterfly Society Conservatory in Fort Myers opened in 2009. Unlike most facilities, it is allowed to breed butterflies. Therefore visitors can witness the entire process of metamorphosis.

butterflies

In the foyer are glass enclosures with different butterfly chrysalis. You are offered a guide sheet with photos and names of Florida butterflies you will find inside. I decline thinking I know butterflies from all the work on my gardening book and my back garden efforts.

That attitude lasts about two seconds until I step through the screen doors and promptly see two butterflies I could not name. Coming back to the foyer I beg forgiveness and ask for a cheat sheet.

Inside the glass warehouse-sized conservatory there are two rules: do not touch the butterflies and stay on the path. Winding past pools and waterfalls, it is quickly apparent that there are layers of habitat here – way past the usual red Penta for food and milkweed for the monarchs to lay their eggs.

Butterflies have a full life cycle here

This is an educational facility – specifically to introduce visitors to what makes up a healthy habitat for butterflies – it would include many hiding places, nectar sources and protected areas to rest.

These are fragile creatures. They need our help – a perfect reason to start or enhance a butterfly garden.

The day’s big event (it happens every day they are open) is a butterfly release at 10:30 a.m. On the day of my visit the conservatory is full of school children.

Butterflies

Out comes a staff member with a large mesh container. Newly- hatched butterflies were set free for their maiden flight. Amazing, No hesitation, Butterflies flutter away like they already had a destination in mind. The kids cheer.

The conservatory is part of a complex called Butterfly Estates on Fowler Avenue. Also on site are three small wooden buildings – a Gift Shop, a lunch restaurant called the Gathering Place and Z Crepes, a breakfast place.

Closed Mondays. Conservatory and gift shop hours are Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Butterflies and more at Butterfly Estates

Butterfly Estates is on Fowler Avenue but you do not enter there. Go past the Estates to the stoplight at Thompson Street. Turn left, then left again to enter the Estates parking lot.

Address: 1815 Fowler Street, Fort Myers, phone 239-690-2359.

Tickets for the conservatory are for sale inside the Gift Shop. Admission is $7 for ages 13 and up, $4 ages 3 to 12 and under the age of 3 admitted free. The Gift Shop has restrooms.

Note: Florida residents get $1 off with valid Florida ID. Age 50 and older get $1 off. University students pay $5 with valid ID and military receive free admission with valid ID.

Note also that the conservatory fee is tax deductible.

Butterfly friendly plants are for sale outside the conservatory. Come with friends and take selfies of everyone sitting in the big butterfly chair.

Hooked? I am.

Butterflies – lots of them at Butterfly World

In addition, here is another butterfly place I like: Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, open seven days a week. It is a breeding facility for butterflies, hundreds of them. When we stepped inside there was a show stopper with a crowd of admirers – an Atlas moth, huge with fake eyes on its wings making it look quite menacing, hopefully, to predators.

atlas moth

Of course they have a large demonstration butterfly garden area and plants for sale. It won’t be long before you find yourself checking out the native plant nurseries in your area and digging holes in the ground for your new acquisitions.

In conclusion, it is time to go out into the back garden. I’ll be looking to expand hiding places and protected areas to rest for butterflies. Are we having fun yet? Yes, we are.

GOOD TO KNOW

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a free list of butterflies in Florida. You order it online, they send it to you in the mail. Directions are a little complicated, but doable.  Go to their Web site

On the first page that comes up click on online ordering, when the next page comes up type in “butterflies” in the name section and it will come up.

UPCOMING

Join me along with other children’s book authors, at the Children’s Book Fair and Family Fun day on Saturday, April 29 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Bradenton Farmer’s Market on Old Main Street, Bradenton

ORIGAMI CONTINUES

Origami in the Garden continues at Naples Botanical Garden through April 23. In addition to monumental sculptures scattered around the garden, the guide map has a cool feature – the guide map can be made into your own Origami Flying Crane and there are directions on how to do just that. Be sure to get two maps, one to cut up and one to use for following the crane directions. See the garden Web site for admission prices and time. And yes, just so you know, they have a butterfly house.

 

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Making Mosaics in Barcelona, Spain

Florida Lighthouses Welcome Visitors

Bed & Breakfasts in Florida Pamper Guests

 

 

Milkweed Crisis in the Backyard

Milkweed Crisis in the Backyard

Holy cow! I’ve got a crisis! In my backyard the monarch caterpillars have chomped through all the leaves on the milkweed plants and they are still hungry. The very last milkweed has five, count them FIVE caterpillars and only TWO leaves left. That isn’t going to cut it. Will they die as caterpillars and never turn into butterflies if they don’t get more milkweed leaves?

milkweed
milkweed stripped of leaves

Aggggggh! I don’t know the answer but I don’t like the numbers. Rushing to Lowe’s I search in vain for milkweed. “Nope, we don’t have any,” says a bored clerk. I’m sure my crisis would seem like comedy to her. I don’t bother to explain. Rushing back home I phone Taylor Gardens Nursery in Citra.

Milkweed plants are host plants for Monarch butterflies

Guda tells me to come on out, she has a few pots of milkweed left. I drive almost a half hour and ask for five pots, figuring a feast for each caterpillar.

“You know it is late for monarchs to be doing caterpillars,” Guda comments as she picks up pots and pulls out a few weeds. Even as she speaks several female monarchs are flying nearby, looking to lay eggs on the milkweeds.

Monarchs and milkweeds go together like bacon and eggs. They need each other. While some flowers supply nectar for butterflies, each species has its own host plant that it must find to lay its eggs.

That’s why butterfly gardeners will plant say, a red penta, to attract butterflies, and nearby are plants like milkweed and fennel and passion vine for different kinds of butterflies to lay their eggs.

Eggs hatch, caterpillars eat and eat, then metamorphosis happens, they change form completely and emerge as beautiful flying canvases of color.

I hurried home, grabbed a shovel and planted milkweed along the fence line then carefully transferred each caterpillar to its own plant. They began chomping immediately. Crisis solved!

monarch caterpillar
monarch caterpillar eating milkweed leaf

Yes, I know, it isn’t on the same level as solving the economic crisis or bringing our troops home but somehow making a difference in my backyard makes a difference. You have got to start somewhere.

Did you know that monarchs need your help? Killing freezes in Mexico destroyed 75 percent of the wintering population of monarchs from North America. In the spring, summer and fall they need milkweed here to lay their eggs and there is a national shortage of milkweed. It used to grow a lot by the side of the road but spraying and deep cutting has eliminated them.

Milkweed plants in your yard will help save Monarch butterflies

The Live Monarch foundation seeks to grow milkweed in every back yard! You can get free milkweed seeds by sending a stamped, addressed envelope (with a suggested donation of $2) to: Live Monarch Foundation – Seeds, 3003-C8 Yamato Road #1015, Boca Raton, Florida 33434.

If you don’t want to get down and dirty and dig in the dirt, adopt an online butterfly and watch your monarch go from an egg to an adult butterfly. You get an update every few days with pictures. This is a free educational experience. What are you waiting for? I’m signing up today then going outside to check on the milkweed plants.

New milkweed plants along the fence line
New milkweed plants along the fence line

Lucy Beebe Tobias is the author of “50 Great Walks in Florida”, University Press of Florida, and the Authentic Florida Expert for VISIT FLORIDA

Lucy’s  book Florida Gardens Gone Wild(er), second edition, 2015, has excellent butterfly garden suggestions

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