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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Gentle Manatees Swim in Florida Waters

Gentle Manatees Swim in Florida Waters

Manatees were here before mastodons stomped down Florida grasses.

Before Indians inhabited prime seaside real estate. Even before Ponce de Leon got himself killed wandering around Florida looking for the Fountain of Youth.

Manatees pre-date Disney and interstates

Yes, way back, some 45,000,000 years ago before Interstate 75 even existed and Walt Disney had yet to invade Orlando.  West Indian manatees gathered then and now in shallow Florida waters during the winter months. These peaceful creatures swim slowly  munching peacefully on sea grasses and water hyacinths.

J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island has a new look at this ancient Florida resident. See their manatee exhibit tucked in a corner inside their free Visitor/Education center. The center is a large round room loaded with worthwhile exhibits and a delightful book store. The Center hours: 9-5 from January through April and 9-4 May through December.

 

manatee exhibit at Ding Darling
Marvelous Manatee exhibit at “Ding” Darling NWR, Sanibel Island

Did I mention the fact that these large aquatic mammals bother no one? Normally, you’d think that would help survival.

But now, after surviving 45,000,000 years a predator has arrived on the scene, slicing and dicing manatees with cruel efficiency even the saber-toothed tiger could not match.

Boat propellers.

A table at the new manatee exhibit lays out the forensic evidence why one manatee died. Among the big clues – boat propellers.

Fast boats. Slow manatees. The combination is a disaster in the making. Manatees that are not killed carry scars from boat encounters. Manatee zones exist in many coastal counties – areas were boaters are supposed to slow down to idle speed.

But wasn’t the point of getting those big-assed motors to go fast? You better believe it. So it comes as no surprise to you, dear readers, that the Pacific Legal Foundation, on behalf of the Save Crystal River, Inc. (pro boater) wants the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to down list manatees, thus ensuring the manatee zones will be gone and they can be run over at will.

Currently manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 along with the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978.

Read more at Save the Manatee Club web site.

View manatees in Florida

If you’ve never seen a manatee, now is the time. Winter months they congregate in warm rivers. Here are some viewing opportunities:

The park staff at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City counted 302 manatees on Dec. 31, 2012. The St. John’s River water is shallow. Viewing is excellent. But if you can’t get there right away, then check out the free wild manatee cams at Blue Spring State Park.

Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center has an education building and plenty of manatees during the winter months.

Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River is not only beautiful but a favorite warm water hangout for manatees.

Notice I use the word “view” – so much healthier for the manatees than swimming or diving with them (a big tourist industry in Crystal River, please refuse to participate).

Imagine you are sitting in your living room, munching on a healthy salad made of organic greens, when suddenly a snorkeler drops down from the ceiling and gets right in your face. Then he starts snapping pictures, waving his hands and more snorkelers arrive. They start poking you. A nightmare that happens to manatees every day in Crystal River. Mothers, children, fathers, all this stress for manatees even before they leave the safe “living room” (manatee zone) and encounter boat propellers.

Speaking of salads, manatee programs at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa include feeding a whole lot of lettuce to resident manatees (injured and orphaned manatees are rehabilitated and some are permanent residents). The times are 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30p.m. daily.

 

manatees at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Outdoor benches provide a viewing area. Also get a look at manatees underwater by going down inside the Fish Bowl underwater observatory.

The saber-tooth tigers and mastodons are gone, extinct. Manatees live on, wild and free, and their existence is dependent on you and me.

Note this advice from Save the Manatee: Call 10888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on your cell phone or use VHF Channel 16, marine radio, if you see an injured, dead, tagged or orphaned manatee, or if you see a manatee being harassed.

FOR PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS

Lucy Beebe Tobias is the author and illustrator of “Mary Margaret Manatee: the adventures of a young Florida manatee” a positive story book for 4-10 year olds that includes a study guide in the back.

manatees

 

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