When I first began visiting the Florida Museum of Natural History with my kids in the mid-1990s, the buzz was all about dinosaurs and bones, topics of interest for little boys in the era of post-"Jurassic Park" dino fever.
Now, the main attraction is more delicate and beautiful.
The Butterfly Rainforest, a 6,400 square-foot living exhibit at the museum on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, supports a population of hundreds of species acquired from butterfly farms in the Philippines, Malaysia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Suriname, Ecuador, Belize and Florida that help protect natural habitats and promote conservation.
Turns out that spring is prime viewing time for butterflies, which don't like to venture out much when the temperature dips below 60 degrees. Much like native Floridians.
Exhibits take visitors through the science of Lepidoptera, covering everything from "What is a Butterfly?" to worldwide conservation issues.
The centerpiece is the Wall of Wings, a steel structure 210 feet long and nearly three stories high, which showcases thousands of butterfly and moth specimens and photographs. Large-scale plasma screens feature footage of butterflies from North, South and Central America, Africa and Asia.
On the lower wall, there are hundreds of specimens that illustrate butterfly and moth biology.
If you'd like to start your own butterfly garden at home, time your visit to take advantage of one of the butterfly-friendly plant sales on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Experts are available to explain how to attract butterflies to your home. Native, nectar, host and accent plants are for sale, with proceeds benefiting the Florida Museum's Butterfly Rainforest.
Visitors also can watch live butterfly releases at 2, 3 and 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting. Butterfly Rainforest is open seven days a week, year-round, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Rainforest admission is $10.50 adults, $6 ages 3-17; ($9 adults for Florida residents). Visit flmnh.ufl.edu/butterflies for details.