This is one of the museum's most popular annual seasonal exhibitions. Butterflies and moths make up a large group of insects known as the Order Lepidoptera (lep-i-DOP-ter-ah). The name—from the Greek lepido, "scale," and ptera, "wings"—refers to a prominent feature of adult butterflies and moths, the tiny scales that cover the wings and the rest of the body.

Adult butterflies are wonderfully diverse in shape, size, and color. Active during the day, they live almost everywhere around the world, from Arctic tundra to tropical rain forests.

There are more than 250,000 known species of Lepidoptera, of which about 18,000 are butterflies. Based on their anatomy, butterflies are classified into five families. This exhibition features butterflies from three of the families: the Pieridae (PYAIR-i-dee), commonly known as whites and sulphurs; the Papilionidae (pah-pill-ee-ON-i-dee), or swallowtails; and the Nymphalidae (nim-FAL-i-dee), which includes morphos, longwings, and others.

Exhibition Highlights

Anatomy

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Anatomy

The intricate designs of butterfly wings are produced by thousands of scales, arrayed in complex patterns.

Metamorphosis

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Metamorphosis

The butterfly begins life as an egg, emerges as a caterpillar, and then undergoes a complete change in body form during development.

Defense

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Defense

Butterflies have evolved in remarkable ways that help them avoid being eaten by birds, lizards, and other predators. 

Evolution

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Evolution

Our understanding of butterfly origins is based on the study of living Lepidopteran species.

Ecology

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Ecology

Because of their interactions with plants and other animals, butterflies play an important role in the web of life.

Architecture

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Architecture

The butterfly vivarium is a custom-fabricated, temporary shell structure that sits within one of the Museum's existing galleries.

Conservation

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Conservation

Butterfly diversity has decreased alarmingly in some parts of the world, pointing to the need for better management and public education.

Butterfly FAQ

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Butterfly FAQ

Find answers to the top 10 questions about butterflies.

Grow a Butterfly Garden

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Grow a Butterfly Garden

A butterfly garden, large or small, can attract butterflies to your back yard. Here are some tips for creating your own garden.

For Educators

Educator Guide, Online Resource

For Educators

Use these free online resources before or after your visit to further explore themes presented in the Butterfly Conservatory.

Generous support for The Butterfly Conservatory has been provided by the Eileen P. Bernard Exhibition Fund.

The Butterfly Conservatory