The Butterfly Conservatory



of an Exhibit

by Natalie Tahsler

Published on March 28, 2011 , Modified on March 29, 2011

  • Description:

    The Butterfly Conservatory at the American Museum of Natural History is an annual fully immersive exhibit. As you enter the hall (the Hall of Oceanic Birds which was once full of bird dioramas that still peek out from behind the Butterfly wall texts), there is a photographic label of metamorphosis and brief overview of caterpillars and butterflies. You can peer into the conservatory as you read the labels. This initial walk into the conservatory prepares you for the exhibit. The information is brief but gives you the basics on butterflies and caterpillars: metamorphosis and the different species.

    When you enter the conservatory, you enter into the world of butterflies. The temperature is hot and humid inside but no labels explain that most butterflies need warm temperatures to survive. This concept is easily understood as you begin to sweat.

    This is an interactive exhibit in which you enter the habitat of butterflies. The visitor does not interact with the space by manipulating objects; instead one walks around and observes butterflies doing what butterflies do. Various landscapes are set up to allow the butterflies to fly from flower to flower or tree to tree. Many of the butterflies will land on the visitors allowing a close-up view. Magnifying glasses would be handy to look at the body of the butterfly and scales on its wings.

    One facilitator was holding an orange with a Blue Belly Button butterfly feeding on it with its red proboscis during my visit. She did not force information on me; she patiently held out the orange and allowed me to closely examine the proboscis. When I was ready to ask a question, she was there to listen. I also heard the same facilitator excitedly announce to a small group of children to come look at the Blue Belly Button.

    The one downside to the exhibit is that caterpillars are not allowed inside the conservatory. A few pupa and chrysalises are on display demonstrating the middle portion of metamorphosis. As the outside text discusses caterpillars, it would add to the experience to have live caterpillars to examine.

    The Butterfly Conservatory is all about the experience. Facilitators are there to help guide your experience. The focus is not being able to identify all the butterflies. It is about leaving and wanting to do further research on the type of butterfly that landed on your arm. You learn about butterflies by experiencing them. You watch them fly, feed, and mate. The facilitators are always there to answer questions or engage you in a conversation. There were at least three facilitators the two times I was in there despite the exhibit’s small space.

    The only downside to the exhibit is that once you exit, there is no conclusion or wrap-up. I had an awesome experience inside and left with so many things I wanted to research. It would be great as you exit the Conservatory to have a list of the butterflies that were inside or a facilitator to answer any lingering questions. Instead you exit into a space with the uncovered bird dioramas (ironic as birds are a major predator of the butterfly). The website does provide information that would help prepare for a visit or answer questions after the exhibit. It also provides live video feeds in case you missed some of the action inside the Butterfly Conservatory.

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