Spreading its Wings

Butterfly Garden And Bug Carousel At The Bronx Zoo
New York City

By Deborah Meyer Abbs

Getting back to nature, even in the heart of a busy metropolis, never has been so easy, especially since the Bronx Zoo—which sits on 265 acres surrounded by New York City—opened its new Butterfly Garden last May. The 5,000-square-foot greenhouse hosts more than 1,000 North American butterflies and has hundreds of butterfly-attracting shrubs and plants in both its indoor and outdoor gardens complete with lush pathways and classical music. Unique, 8-foot-long caterpillar benches flank the exhibit's entry, while an arched cedar arbor leads guests to the interior space that boasts up to 55 different species of butterflies. In the 1-acre-plus outdoor garden, whimsical sculptures and interactive signs with handles and flips for children (or curious adults) help engage visitors and teach about butterflies and other insects.

One special feature of the Butterfly Garden is a husbandry room attached to the greenhouse. This is where zoo staff cares for an insect from the pupae stage until a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. Visitors are able to look through glass windows and observe this process firsthand.

Two ponds also were created for the exhibit—one inside and one outside.

"With its meandering garden that brings to light the metamorphosis of butterflies and moths, it's really a magical place," says Linda Corcoran, the assistant director of communications at the Wildlife Conservation Society, the parent organization of the Bronx Zoo.

One thing visitors really enjoy, Corcoran says, is when butterflies land on them.

"Butterflies especially like yellow and red and are also attracted to certain scents," she says. Besides being able to just enjoy the unique experience, the exhibit also urges visitors to get involved in wildlife themselves by creating their own gardens that help butterflies. Another section lets visitors know what the Wildlife Conservation Society is doing for conservation.

"The exhibit's conservation message is not only about butterflies but also addresses why so many insects are important to our planet," says Richard Lattis, Wildlife Conservation Society senior vice president and general director for Living Institutions.

With 324,000 visitors during its first season, one challenge was to make the exhibit's walking path (located both inside and outside) accessible for strollers and wheelchairs and aesthetically pleasing, according to Brian Morrissey, project manager for Exhibition Graphic Arts Department (EGAD) at the Bronx Zoo.

Enter DecoSystems, a division of California Products Corporation in Andover, Mass. While the company is traditionally known for its sport surfaces that have been used for the U.S. Open since 1978 and for the 2004 Olympics, it also offers a non-athletic coating, called Acrylotex. Designed for use on asphalt and concrete surfaces, this decorative acrylic coating for high-wear surfaces was applied to the Butterfly exhibit's paths. Besides providing a medium-texture, nonskid surface that can stand a lot of foot traffic, it also does well in a moist environment like the Butterfly Garden.

"We like it because it's easy to maintain, and the chocolate-brown color we chose blends in well with the natural surroundings," Morrissey says.

Another challenge in building the $4 million facility, designed by Centra/Ruddy Incorporated, was making the space comfortable for both visitors and butterflies.

"It required some intricate heating, cooling and ventilation," Morrissey says. The butterfly garden is open from the beginning of April to the end of October. Although the exhibit could house butterflies year-round, heating the greenhouse to the required 75 degrees during the winter would not be cost-effective, Morrissey explains. The current plan is to keep the garden open for reflection and special events during the coldest months of the year—sans butterflies—though patrons can enjoy the heated greenhouse with its seasonal plantings and pond stocked with Butterfly Koi Fish.

Prior to opening the new facility, the Bronx Zoo had a temporary exhibit called the Butterfly Zone. But because it was open to the elements and butterflies need at least that 75-degree temperature to fly, cooler days caused problems. With the new facility being climate-controlled, this is no longer an issue during its designated butterfly season.

"Since it is still new, we are just beginning to make back our investment," Morrissey says. "But over time, I'm sure it will be a profitable part of the zoo and continue to generate revenue."

To enter the exhibit, guests pay $3 or they can buy a Pay-One-Price (POP) ticket that combines regular gate admission with a reduced rate for special attractions. These full-package tickets cost $21 for adults and $19 for kids. Basic admission rates are $12 for adults and $9 for children. In July, a Bug Carousel opened to compliment the Butterfly Garden, offering rides for $2 per person or as part of the Zoo's Pay-One-Price ticket.

A Few Fluttering
Fun Facts
  • 4 Butterflies, also known as Lepidoptera, have six legs, a head, thorax and abdomen.
  • 4 Most butterfly species have an adult life span measured in days, but monarchs can survive for months after their long-distance treks.
  • 4 A female monarch butterfly lays more than 400 pin-sized eggs, each on its own milkweed plant leaf.

Source: Wildlife Conservation Society

"The Bug Carousel is doing very well, with about 175,000 riders so far, and it makes a wonderful addition to the Butterfly Garden," Lattis says.

Created by Carousel Works in Mansfield, Ohio, the 64 hand-carved, rideable insects include a grasshopper, cicada, honey bee, ladybug, firefly, beetle, caterpillars and praying mantis. The carousel itself spans 50 feet in diameter with an 80-foot-diameter pavilion enclosing the ride mechanics, and transparent doors protect from the elements.

While a grant from the Heckscher Foundation for Children initiated the fundraising campaign for the custom carousel, individual donors ($10,000 to $25,000) can place their names on a bug or a chariot.

"The new Butterfly Garden has met our visitors' expectations because it's a place of wonder and discovery," Lattis says. "Here, our guests can experience one of nature's most delicate and beautiful creatures."


Bronx Zoo:

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