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Part of the The Butterfly Conservatory exhibition.

Heat lamps hang from the ceiling over lush plants and butterfly feeding stations. ©AMNH/M. Shanley

The butterfly vivarium is a custom-fabricated, temporary shell structure that sits within one of the Museum's existing galleries. It has been designed to be a "kit of parts" that can be broken down, stored, then reinstalled in future years. It is a completely sealed, self-contained environment, and is maintained by its own HVAC system.

The vivarium is approximately 1,315 square feet. Butterflies are contained within the adult flight area which is approximately 62 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 13 feet high. This space is enclosed by a shell structure consisting of a series of arched panels springing from a carpeted floor along the west side of the exhibit, and supported on the opposite side by a row of columns. The north and south enclosing walls are made of aluminum panels. Running the length of the vivarium to the east is a transparent wall made of acrylic panels.

The arched panels are made of "Kalwall"—a composite panel of a grid of aluminum "I" beams with a fiberglass skin stretched on both sides. Spanning between the panels is a series of service panels. The service panels accommodate all lighting, and supply and return air outlets. These panels are made of a framework of aluminum "C" channels that are clad with 1/16" aluminum sheet metal. All openings in these panels are covered with 16x16 stainless steel mesh as per USDA regulations.

Lighting is provided by twelve 1000-watt metal halide lamps customized to focus light down onto the plants. Heat produced by these fixtures is exhausted off into the return air system. All openings around the fixtures are completely enclosed and sealed in stainless steel 16x16 mesh as per USDA regulations. Throughout the project, all joints between panels are sealed with a propriety press-in neoprene gasket. At the junction with the existing terrazzo floor, the joints are sealed with a bead of sealant. The supply and return air is fed to the space via galvanized steel spiral ductwork sitting on top of the structure. The ductwork feeds air via flex ducts, into plenum boxes which sit on top of the service panels. The main HVAC duct runs back to a unit that is located in a room adjacent to the exhibit. Flooring is a recycled rubber rolled sheet, which is adhered on to the existing terrazzo floor with double stick tape, and then completely sealed.

Two butterflies drink from a sponge soaked in liquid that sits in a clear dish.
Butterflies gather at a nectar feeding station.
© AMNH/D. Finnin

Before entering the vivarium, visitors line up along a covered passageway. To their right is a series of illustrated panels that describe butterfly reproduction, development, defense mechanisms, evolution, and conservation. To their left they can look into the vivarium through the transparent acrylic wall. They enter the vivarium through a vestibule at the north end of the structure. Both entry and exit vestibules are maintained at lower light levels than the flight zone to avoid attracting butterflies. The vestibules also have air curtains mounted over the interior doors to the flight area. Once inside the vivarium, visitors walk along a serpentine path with landscaped with tropical plants to re-create a rainforest. Landscaping is contained within pots. Throughout the exhibit, there are information panels about butterflies, as well as nectar feeding stations. In the center of the flight area is a self-contained pupa display case where visitors can observe the pupa emerging. Visitors exit through the south vestibule, which is lined with reflective Mylar so that they can check for any possible hitchhikers.