When Butterfly Biologists Go on Vacation

Happy Holidays blog readers! Classes are over and even us grad students can enjoy a nice long winter break! My (also a biology grad student) husband Chris and I enjoyed a pre-Christmas vacation in the northeast.

We walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, it was pretty cool.


We spent some time skiing and visiting family in Vermont before spending three days in New York City. While in New York City we had the opportunity to visit the American Museum of Natural History.


We paid the awesome student price instead of regular adult admission!


On a quick side note: our trip to the museum was a fun, non-working visit, keep watching the blog to get a report from HJMacLean on her fun, “working” visit to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.

So anyway back to the Natural History Museum in New York, it was awesome! My husband Chris and I had a great time visiting all of the different exhibits and shows. We were surprised at how much we remembered from our “History of Life” course back in college about the evolution of vertebrates and other dinosaurs. I love how many different exhibits there are at the museum. We saw fossils from dinosaurs, early mammals, and early hominids as well as dioramas on the Peoples of Asia, Africa, North America and more. We even took pictures next to some great dinosaur fossils!

Chris was a big fan of all the dinosaur fossils!


One of the special exhibits at the museum during the winter is the Butterfly Conservatory which is a special room (like a greenhouse) with all different species of tropical butterflies inside. I was so excited to see this exhibit, now don’t get me wrong I love my sulphur butterflies, but the chance to see tropical butterflies flying around me during the winter is pretty cool.

The entrance to the Butterfly Conservatory Exhibit


The exhibit started out with boxed specimens of some common, temperate butterflies, as well as some pretty spectacular tropical butterflies as well.

Colias in New York!
I think these are some of the prettiest butterflies out there. (sorry the pic isn’t that great)


The pinned specimens were lovely, but what I was really here to see was the live butterflies in the butterfly house. We entered the butterfly house through two sets of doors that prevent butterflies from escaping the room. Once inside it felt like we were in a tropical rainforest. They keep the butterfly house at 80F and quite humid so that the butterflies would stay happy and flying. Inside the butterfly house it felt a little surreal. We were surrounded by tropical butterflies that flew around our heads as well as by our feet. I had to keep watch of where I was stepping because I didn’t want to crush any of them by accident. There were so many different species too! I saw zebra long winged butterfly  Heliconius charithonia  as well as a clear-winged butterfly. I asked one of the volunteers there where they get the butterflies from and how they rear them and it turns out that they order them from Florida. Somewhere in Florida there is a company that raises butterflies and caterpillars and ships them as pupae to the Natural History Museum. It sounds a lot easier than how I raise my butterflies in the lab! Some of the butterflies in the exhibit do mate with each other, but without the proper host plant most of them don’t lay eggs.

I had to wait for the exact moment when it opened its wings to get this picture!
This incredible butterfly has clear wings that you can see through


I really got the chance to just enjoy the beauty of the butterflies, which is something that I forget about sometimes when I’m working in the lab or analyzing data. I was a pretty happy camper just hanging out taking pictures of these cool Lepidopterans.

All smiles from me after an awesome day with butterflies!


The only thing that would have made the butterfly house even better would be if we got to see all of the caterpillar forms of the adult butterflies. However, I think that is mostly a personal opinion since I most often hang out with crawling around caters. If you are in New York City while the exhibit is going on at the museum I advise you to check it out. Unless you travel to tropical regions all the time, how often would you get to be surrounded by tropical butterflies? It’s just a really neat experience. I hope you enjoyed my review and pictures of the Butterfly Conservatory at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It was a fun adventure and it reminded me again just how cool butterflies are!

UPDATE: After I wrote this post I realized that there is also a tropical butterfly house much closer to where I live and work at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC. Hopefully I can convince CarolinaSarah and HJMacLean to go with me on a butterfly adventure in our hometown!