The wings in their lair

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Butterfly house at Botanic Gardens at Chatfield highlights native species

By Ramsey Scott

Colorado is home to one of the most diverse butterfly populations in the country, and the beauty of that variety is on full display this summer in South Jeffco. 


The Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield opened the new Butterflies at Chatfield exhibit last weekend, a collaborative effort between the gardens and the Butterfly Pavilion. The exhibit is one of a kind in Colorado, featuring only native plants and butterfly species, said Mary Ann Hamilton, the pavilion’s vice president for science and conservation. 

“When you come to Butterflies at Chatfield, you see butterflies you’ll find in your own backyard in Colorado,” Hamilton said. “We really wanted to re-create that natural habitat that you find here in Colorado.”

The butterfly house will feature more than 100 butterflies at any given time, with the species on display changing with each chrysalis that hatches, Hamilton said. They include the two-tailed swallowtail, the silver-spotted skipper, and the two butterflies that opened the exhibit, the monarch and the painted lady.

The butterfly house is the first collaboration between the gardens and the pavilions on an exhibit, Hamilton said. 

“We really wanted to look for unique opportunities for us to collaborate and support the education of our local communities,” Hamilton said. 

She said it was exciting to see only native species on display. The Butterfly Pavilion, which is in Westminster, focuses on more exotic species, but Hamilton believes it’s important to showcase all that Colorado has to offer in its butterfly population. 

“We plan on bringing in about 30 different species of butterfly, all natives,” Hamilton said. “Colorado is in the top five in butterfly diversity in the United States. We really are a butterfly mecca, and this will be a great opportunity to show that off.”

A main reason for that variety is the diversity in landscapes in Colorado, said Larry Vickerman, director of the Botanic Gardens at Chatfield. 

“From the plains to the foothills, we have this diverse range of habitat, which leads to this diverse butterfly population,” Vickerman said. “That’s what we try to achieve here at Chatfield, that diversity of the plant population in Colorado. … 

“This has been a great collaboration to show what it means to be a native species,” he said. “And people just love butterflies. I didn’t know much about them, but they’re fascinating.”

Hamilton said people often don’t realize how important butterflies are to the entire ecosystem. They are one of the bellwether species in nature and a “forgotten pollinator,” she said.

“If you see a lot of butterflies flying around, then you know the habitat is healthy,” Hamilton said. “Butterflies and dragonflies provide food for birds and other small animals. Without invertebrates, our world wouldn’t be so diverse.”

While the exhibit, which runs until early October, depending on the weather, is intended to educate, there is something to be said for just appreciating the beauty of butterflies. 

And beautiful they are. Visitors will be treated to butterflies flying from plant to plant, and from pants leg to pants leg, as they walk around the enclosed space.

“They are just beautiful,” Hamilton said. 

Hamilton said only five visitors would be allowed inside the house at one time to help maintain the habitat and to ensure they can appreciate the beauty of the exhibit. There will also be a chance to see the next batch of butterflies in their cocoon stage. 

The exhibit is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with last entry at 4 p.m. Tickets are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for children 2 and up. Children 2 and under are admitted free. Pavilion and gardens members get a discounted admission of $4 for adults and $2 for children.

For more information, contact the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield at 720-865-4336.