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A Breath of Fresh Air: Butterfly Gardens of Wisconsin

Posted on June 30, 2017 by Kate Morton

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My interest in butterflies, specifically monarch butterflies, began when I was in middle school and one of the staff members was nice enough to gift me a couple of monarch caterpillars to raise (she also offered some baby painted turtles, but that was a “no” from mom.)

It’s practically a universal fact that middle school is the worst, and the new hobby was a great outlet. I was fascinated by watching the caterpillars grow and transform into something completely different, and felt a fulfilling sense of responsibility in helping them along on the journey.

Considering my interest in butterflies, the Butterfly Gardens of Wisconsin in Appleton felt like the perfect place to kick off this series. I brought along my friend Hailey, who has a knack for entomology and is researching bees this summer, making her the perfect companion.

We arrived after a couple of wrong turns—the Gardens don’t actually show up on Google Maps, but, thankfully, I was able to find directions on the website. If you’re having trouble, just look out for the inexplicable Bigfoot located just before the turn into the parking lot.

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It doesn’t get more “rural Wisconsin” than a random wooden silhouette of the elusive Bigfoot.

To start off, we made our way to the gift shop to pay to get into the butterfly house (admission is $6 for adults, $3 for ages 3-17, kids 2 and under are free). The staff were all very friendly and it was great to talk to people who had a genuine interest in butterflies and other creatures.

The gift shop itself actually had some local wildlife, too. There were two small tanks, one with two tree frogs and another with two painted turtles, adorably named Georgia and Claude (after the famous painters). There were also different kinds of caterpillars, including one in the process of making a chrysalis. One of the most interesting features was the bee observation area, where two panes of clear plastic allowed us to peek in on a hive, which had a pipe connected to the outside for the bees to come and go. We even got to see the queen, who had a yellow dot on her back for identification.

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We listened to co-owner Marty Voight give a short orientation before going in to see the butterflies. She showed us the difference between a male and female monarch (the males have small black spots on their wings) and talked a little bit about the monarch migration. She also mentioned the recent decline in monarch populations, which I appreciated, and that butterflies are especially important because they actually help to provide a big chunk of our food supply through pollination. I thought it was great that the experience was about education and spreading awareness as well as the spectacle of butterflies.

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Voight shows the differences between male and female monarchs.

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One of many monarchs inside the butterfly house.

The butterfly house itself was very cool. Although it is relatively small, there is plenty to see. There are mostly monarchs and a couple of red admirals, as well as nectar and other local plants for the butterflies. We got to see butterflies in various stages of life, with lots of monarch caterpillars and about 20 red admiral chrysalises. We were also given gatorade-dipped q-tips for the butterflies to sip on, and Hailey got a red admiral to latch on to hers. We couldn’t touch the butterflies because of their sensitive wings, so that interactive aspect was pretty cool. There was also an area with frogs and toads and a mesh container with mating monarchs, a process which we were told lasts, incredibly, about 12 hours.

After the butterfly house, we checked out the maze cut in the shape of a monarch butterfly. It is about 2 acres, so it was perfect for a short, leisurely walk. The scenery around the maze is very pretty, with plenty of trees and native plants. There is also a bridge for visitors to see the butterfly shape from above.

We couldn’t have chosen a better day weather-wise to visit, and all of the other aspects of the Gardens made it more than worthwhile. Not only was it a great way to get back to nature, but we got to learn some things along the way. Knowing that beautiful outdoor spaces like this are only 15 minutes from downtown Appleton, I can’t wait to spend more time exploring the Fox Cities.

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Walking through the butterfly maze.

If you are at all interested in monarch conservation, you can learn more on the Monarch Watch website. The Butterfly Gardens also have great resources for starting a successful butterfly garden with both host and nectar plants for sale. Click here for more information.

Are you involved and/or interested in any conservation efforts? Tell me more in the comments below!

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