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The Common Buckeye is among the butterflies fluttering around in the Otto Borchert Family Special Exhibits Building through Sept. 25.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

Zoo employees will also help give little ones an up-close look at the many species on hand.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

You'll get a laminated butterfly card when you enter that has photographs to help guests identify the species in the exhibition.

More than 500 butterflies flutter in new Zoo exhibit

Butterflies are no strangers to Milwaukee. You can find them everywhere, from backyards to the great butterfly room at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

But right now, the Milwaukee County Zoo is hosting more than 500 butterflies from across North America and the Caribbean in its new exhibition, "Butterflies! In Living Color," which runs through Sept. 25 in the Otto Borchert Family Special Exhibition Building (next to monkey island and the Oceans of Fun seal/sea lion show).

"Guests will see many species not found in Wisconsin," said Craig Berg, aquarium and reptile (including insects) curator at the zoo. "Many of them can be found in the Caribbean, including the islands of Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Grenada, where zoo staff have been doing research on frogs, snakes and iguanas."

Entering the Borchert building, you are greeted with an small introduction from a zoo staffer and then you can go through the air lock, which prevents the butterflies escaping and keeps the warm, humid atmosphere in the exhibition, too.

You'll get a laminated butterfly card when you enter that has photographs to help guests identify the species in the exhibition.

Inside, there is a central gazebo-like structure and attractive landscaping all around. Butterflies flutter here and there, perch on low stone walls, nosh on feeding stations, land of people, plants and – careful! – the walkways.

Beneath the gazebo are cases that contain rows and rows of pupae or chrysalides, from which butterflies can be seen emerging. While to the uninformed some show no signs of any action, others are open and butterflies are hanging out, drying, getting ready to spread their wings.

A staffer told me that she and her cohorts free the new butterflies throughout the day and part of their job is replacing the roughly 40 chrysalides that open each day. There is a "stock room" of pupae and new ones are brought in regularly.

That means that the exhibit is constantly changing.

Although guests are asked not to disturb butterflies that are feeding on flowers and feeding stations, they are otherwise welcome to put a finger out and try to lure a butterfly to land. Some of the zoo employees will also help give little ones an up-close look at the many species on hand.

Among them is the Karner blue butterfly, which is struggling in nature with threatened habitats, said Berg.

While still in the caterpillar stage, the Karner feeds on lupine, a prairie plant.

"Once prairies disappear, lupines also disappear and Karner blue butterflies disappear right along with them," Berg said. "As farmer replace butterfly plants with crops and spray them with pesitcides, they eliminate butterfly habitat and poison their habitat."

The Karners continue to do well in Wisconsin, Berg noted, because the state has worked to protect prairies.

So, while "Butterflies! In Living Color" is a fun and very family-friendly event, it's also a teaching moment, a chance to get the word out about protecting butterfly plants and habitats. After all, someday the kids in the exhibit will want to show their children these colorful creatures.

Admission to "Butterflies! In Living Color" is $2 per person after regular zoo admission. The exhibition is open daily.


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