Live Butterflies Return to Enchant Visitors at the American Museum of Natural History main content.

Live Butterflies Return to Enchant Visitors at the American Museum of Natural History

A child looks at a butterfly on an orange with a magnifying glass in The Butterfly Conservatory: Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter.
A visitor examines a butterfly in The Butterfly Conservatory: Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter, on view until May 29, 2017.
©AMNH/D. Finnin
The Butterfly Conservatory:  Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter

December 10, 2016–May 29, 2017


Featuring Butterflies from All Over the World, Now in its Nineteenth Year



The Butterfly Conservatory: Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter, an annual favorite visited by millions of children and adults, returned to the American Museum of Natural History on Saturday, December 10. Celebrating its 19th year at the Museum, this popular attraction transforms the coolest day into a summer escape, inviting visitors to mingle with up to 500 fluttering, iridescent butterflies among blooming tropical flowers and lush green vegetation in 80-degree temperatures. The Butterfly Conservatory will be on view through May 29, 2017.

The Butterfly Conservatory is ajoyful, enchanting, and educational exhibition for both children and adults, and truly transports visitors out of their everyday lives into a magical setting teeming with color and flourishing life,” said Ellen V. Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History. “Butterflies are also important harbingers of environmental change, and so this exhibition offers not just a unique and fascinating experience, but also an opportunity to learn about the roles butterflies play in ecosystems and why it is so critical that we protect them.”


The Butterfly Conservatory

            Inside a 1,200-square-foot vivarium, a freestanding transparent structure aflutter with activity, visitors interact with butterflies as they stroll along a winding pathway surrounded by tropical plants and vibrant blossoms including Pentas and Ixora. Powerful halide lamps shine down from the ceiling, simulating the sunlight that streams through a rain forest canopy. In the vivarium, monarchs, zebra longwings, paper kites, and other butterfly species flutter among people and plants.

The conservatory’s butterflies come from farms in Florida, Costa Rica, Kenya, Thailand, Malaysia, Ecuador, and Australia.Other featured species include iridescent blue morpho butterflies, striking scarlet swallowtails, large owl butterflies, and beautiful green birdwings. Because the average life span of many butterflies is only two to three weeks, butterfly pupae will be shipped to the Museum for the duration of the exhibit, and the butterflies will be released into the vivarium after emerging. Other pupae hang in a case in the vivarium, giving visitors a first-hand look as adult butterflies emerge from chrysalises and fly away just hours after adjusting to their new surroundings. Video screens outside the vivarium will also display a short film about this process.

Colorful educational displays outside the vivarium explain the life cycle of butterflies, the worldwide efforts to protect their diverse habitats, and the variety of butterfly species in New York State. Visitors can learn about interesting adaptations, from the colored scales that form the intricate designs on butterfly wings to the intriguing relationships between butterflies and other animal species—monarchs, for example, are toxic to birds. Other panels explain how scientists rely on wild butterflies to gauge the health of an ecosystem and how the Museum’s butterfly specimens offer a wealth of information to butterfly and moth researchers around the world.



            The Butterfly Conservatory is curated by David Grimaldi, curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology. The design director is David Harvey, senior vice president for exhibition.


The Butterfly Conservatory is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (


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