Butterfly Magic

tiger longwing

Tiger longwing butterfly (Heliconius hecale). Don't know what's going on with the white stuff on its proboscis.

A friend invited me to go to the Tucson Botanical Gardens with her over the weekend, so we met with cameras in hand ready to photograph the amazing selection of desert plants the Garden has on display.  I hadn’t even thought about the fact that it might be the right time of year for my favorite exhibit to be open until the cashier asked if we wanted to pay a little extra to see it.  Butterfly Magic!  Tucson’s own little butterfly house was open once again!

Now I’ll admit that butterflies are far from my favorite insects, but that doesn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying every butterfly house I’ve ever been to.  I’ve talked about a few in the past (one Friday 5 featured several butterfly houses and I wrote a whole post about the butterfly exhibit at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix), but the Tucson exhibit is special to me.  For one, it’s in my home town.  In fact, it’s only a few blocks from my house!  It’s nice to be able to go visit the butterflies on a moment’s notice rather than having to plan an entire day trip around a visit.  I also know the people who run the exhibit, even TAed for the exhibit director.  That makes it more fun for me because I can see evidence of their handiwork throughout the exhibit.  Plus, Butterfly Magic is the only tropical butterfly house in Arizona.  The Desert Botanical Gardens exhibit, though much larger, is all native North American butterflies, so Butterfly Magic features some of the showier butterflies from around the world that DBG doesn’t get.


Cattleheart butterfly (Parides iphidamus)

Butterfly Magic is quite small.  It’s contained in a single small greenhouse and the pupae are stored in another small room (the Chrysalis Room) just around the corner.  Still…  It’s a really great place!  It’s only open from October through April, so the heat and humidity inside the exhibit doesn’t seem completely awful.  When I went a few days ago, it was actually rather chilly in the morning, so escaping into the warm butterfly filled room was a pleasure.  Well, right up until I realized my camera lens had completely fogged up, but that problem sorted itself out after a few minutes and gave me time to scope out the day’s butterflies while I waited.  My friend and I happened to arrive at a slow time, so it was just her, two docents, one other photographer, and me in the room.  That gave us plenty of space to spread out and shoot without getting in each other’s way.  That so rarely happens at exhibits like these!  It was nice to get to interact with the docents for once too.  They’re mostly volunteers at Butterfly Magic and the two I met today were very excited to be there.  Their enthusiasm was quite infectious!

Paper whites

Paper white butterflies (Ideopsis juventa) in cage as they were released

The butterflies on display change throughout the open season, so I see new butterflies species every time I go.  This time, I got to see some lovely freshly emerged paper white butterflies (Ideopsis juventa) as they were released into the exhibit, a variety of longwing butterflies, and an exquisite malachite butterfly (Siproeta stenlenes). The greenhouse was home to many varieties of flowering plants and trees on this trip (I recognized a variety of orchids and lantana, though little else – wish I knew my plants better!), though in the past they’ve also had many carnivorous plants in the greenhouse.  It’s a small space, but with all the plants and the butterflies flitting around constantly, it’s a darned beautiful place too!


Malachite butterfly (Siproeta stenlenes)

In my experience, photographers in butterfly houses have a bad habit of getting in everyone’s way, sometimes running right over people as they pursue that perfect shot.  I am as guilty of that as anyone else!  (Does make me feel bad though…)  Butterfly Magic has solved part of this problem by offering photographer-only times in the exhibit where they let a limited number of photographers inside to photograph the butterflies without other visitors running around.  Tripods are generally not allowed in the greenhouse, but these special sessions for photographers allow the pros to bring their best gear and get some really excellent images.  The sessions cost extra so I am unlikely to ever make use of them (I don’t use a tripod often anyway), but I love that they make them available.

blue glassy tiger

Blue glassy tiger butterfly (Danaus vulgaris)

My friend and I spent about 45 minutes wandering the exhibit, though I would have been happy to stay longer.  However, because we left when we did, we got to see a paper white emerge from its chrysalis in the Chrysalis Room.  If you’ve never seen a butterfly emerging… Oh!  It’s an amazing, awe-inspiring experience.  As far as I’m concerned, watching something so soft and helpless squeeze out of that tiny space and expand to become a large, gorgeous butterfly is one of the best experiences you can have.

red lacewing

Red lacewing butterfly (Cethosa biblis)

I’ve been to Butterfly Magic several times in the past, but it never seems to get old.  And, even though I might not have stayed as long as I would have liked on this trip, I can always go again.  It takes me less than 5 minutes to get there, so there’s simply no excuse not to make another trip!  Who knows what new things I’ll see next time?


Just in case you want to visit, Butterfly Magic is open at the Tucson Botanical Gardens through April 30, 2012 from 9:30 – 3PM daily.  Cost is $13 for adults and $7.50 for children 4-12 and includes entrance to the gardens.  TBG members pay only $4!


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