While butterflies can be seen in almost any garden or flower patch, there is an even better way to enjoy them: by visiting butterfly flight exhibits. These are the walk-in greenhouses, netted enclosures, or tropical plant displays that also have free-flying butterflies. Such attractions have popped up all around the country, from permanently maintained facilities to temporary exhibits created for special events such as fairs or festivals. Seeing colorful insects fluttering all about is so enchanting that it warrants the effort to travel to these places whenever possible.
I've visited several butterfly exhibits, including Butterfly World near Miami, FL, the Butterfly Rainforest associated with the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville, the Cockrell Butterfly Exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural History, the Butterfly House in the San Antonio Zoo, and the Butterfly Pavilion near Denver, CO. I will never pass up the chance to visit these again, as well as any new ones I haven't yet seen. I visit nearby Wild Connections, a butterfly farm featuring our Texas natives, every week.
Having exotic butterflies contained in an attractive garden habitat is a photographer's dream come true. Although they are still likely to fly away when disturbed, with a high density of subjects, as well as some stealth and patience, sooner or later it is possible to approach amazingly close to some of them. Visitors frequently see courting and mating behavior as well as the insects feeding and sunning themselves. Sometimes the butterflies can be examined so closely that the details of their eyes, antennae, and proboscises are apparent. If a person wants the butterflies to land on an arm or shoulder, it is more likely to happen if bright flower-like colors are worn.
The only drawbacks to butterfly exhibits are: 1. the crowds can sometimes be an annoyance, and 2. the optimum temperature for butterflies is substantially warmer than the comfort level for most humans. I find that the second of these circumstances sometimes helps to alleviate the first. When planning a visit to a completely enclosed butterfly house, or one that is open to hot summer temperatures, it is a good idea to dress as if entering a sauna, and then be prepared to sweat a bit. Luckily, no exertion is required to stroll around the pathways and watch the insects, but even standing still in 80-90°F temperatures with high humidity can be overwhelming for those not acclimated to it.
In spite of the discomfort, visiting with the butterflies is so engaging that it's difficult to pull oneself away. At any moment, a different kind that hasn't appeared before floats out of the foliage and lands just inches away, or a well-camouflaged insect is noticed for the first time. The butterflies are full of surprises and are sure to delight anyone who takes the time to enter their world.