Friday, February 7, 2014

Totally Texas -- Visit the tropics in Fair Park’s butterfly house

Rosine Smith Sammons Butterfly House and Insectarium

Texas Discovery Gardens

3601 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.



Most of the time I’m all about outdoor locations. But after a winter of cold, snow and sleet, I’m ready for a tropical getaway. Especially one so close I can get there and back in time to feed the cat. Something like the Butterfly House at Fair Park’s Discovery Gardens.

Outside, the weather was cold and gray when I visited this week. Inside, the two-story glass-walled conservatory, temperatures were in the 80’s, and the air was brilliant with greenery and tropical flowers. And teeming with butterflies. Because every day at noon, entomologist John Watts arrives to release butterflies newly emerged from the pupae the butterfly house receives from butterfly farmers in Texas and Central America.

The Discovery Gardens maintain the butterfly house to educate the rest of us about the ecological roles insects play. Because these roles aren’t unique to butterflies, the attached insectarium houses a variety of other insects. But as a staff member noted, most people feel happier getting up close with butterflies than, say, with cockroaches. Call it beauty versus the “ick” factor.

Some of the young volunteers present were, in fact, delighted to become perches for the brand new butterflies. The keys to persuading butterflies to alight are persuading them that you’re a plant. Preferably a yummy one, because butterflies, Watts said, taste with their feet.

To look like a plant, stand still as much as possible. And wear green to imitate fresh foliage, or bright colors to imitate a flower. The best clothing for attracting butterflies, Watts said, are tie-dyed or Hawaiian-style shirts, because butterflies have great color vision, in fact seeing colors into ranges of the spectrum invisible to humans.

To attract butterflies, it also helps to smell good. Or at least like fresh bananas, whose attractive powers Watts vouched for. Yes I asked, and no you can’t bring food into the butterfly house. But you may want to consider eating a banana before you enter the butterfly house to get the scent on your hands. Don’t brush your teeth afterward either, and if you’re really lucky, a butterfly may land on your face, searching for the scent.

The outdoor Discovery Gardens and indoor butterfly house are open all week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last entry ticket sold at 4:45 p.m. A staff member called me this morning (February 7) to confirm that the butterfly house is open on this snowy day.  Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors (age 60 and older), $4 for children ages 3-11. Kids under three enter free.

For additional information, including group rates and programs, call 214-428-7476 or visit

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