You give me butterflies

At MSU's Butterfly House, children and adults alike get to enjoy one of the earth's gentlest creatures

An intricate green vine painted on the cement floor of the horticulture building entices visitors to follow the brush strokes to the colorful, wooden screen door of MSU’s Butterfly House.

It is one of many horticulture gardens featured around campus.

The butterfly house, established at its current locale about 13 years ago, has been a consistent attraction for families and students alike. This unknown gem within MSU’s campus has been seeing more community interest.

Danyelle Morrow / The State News
Danyelle Morrow / The State News
Danyelle Morrow / The State News

Education coordinator for the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden Jessica Wright said the butterfly house entertains about 3,800 visitors from field trips alone and around 1,500 other visitors yearly.

“In the 13 years that its been here and the 10 years that I’ve been here, the program has just grown and grown and grown,” Wright said.

Unraveling the secret wing

The indoor heated greenhouse that houses the butterflies is brimming with flora and fauna. From mid-March to the end of April, the butterfly house is alive with the brilliant fluttering wings of the star attractions.

With a large variety of flowers and other vegetation, the numerous butterflies are provided with a warm, lively environment. Certain plants contained in the butterfly house provide nourishment and promote healthy life cycles for each stage of a butterfly’s life.

Life can be seen at every turn inside the small house. Stone pathways weave visitors through the hues of green foliage around brick-edged ponds, a small wooden bridge, ornate stone benches and the chrysalis cage in which adult butterflies emerge from their cocoons and spread their wings for the first time.

Visitors range from children on field trips to MSU students to entire families.

Human development and family studies senior Rachel Doa decided to visit the butterfly house after finishing one of the last final exams of her time at MSU.

“It’s interactive and fun,” Doa said. “It’s a good way to appreciate butterflies without hurting them.”

Hands-on interaction

The butterfly house offers an interesting opportunity for nature enthusiasts. Visitors are welcome and encouraged to gently interact with the butterflies.

Unlike other butterfly houses, MSU’s visitors can coax butterflies onto their hands since the house only features North American species of butterfly.

Norm Lownds, curator of the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden, said the butterfly house carries four or five Michigan-native butterflies, as well as butterflies from the southern part of the U.S.

At any given time, five or six of the eight to 10 species the house features can be seen.

“We really want kids to be aware of North American butterflies that they could see at home,” Lownds said.

Other butterfly houses exhibiting more exotic species, which have more rules attached to their care, cannot give this option to their visitors.

Wright began working at MSU’s Butterfly House when she graduated from MSU 10 years ago and hasn’t stopped enjoying the house or its visitors.

“It’s not often that kids interact with nature this way,” Wright said. “The kids make it fun.”

Celebrating butterflies

This Saturday, the butterfly house is inviting the community to celebrate Butterfly Day from 10 a.m. to noon. The day honors the butterflies and will feature a series of activities for visitors to take part in.

Any children who visit the butterfly house Saturday will have the chance to make butterfly feeders and take plants home with them to start their own butterfly gardens.

MSU’s Butterfly House is a space on campus that students are welcome to come to that is peaceful and provides time to get away from the stressors of class and exams, Lownds said.

Lownds said he hopes the knowledge visitors gain from their time at the butterfly house will carry over into their decisions about how they interact with other creatures’ habitats.

But above all, Lownds said the best part of his experience has been seeing the joy and curiosity on the faces of the children who visit the butterfly house.

“We want kids to truly experience the butterflies,” Lownds said.

A joy for all ages

Six-year-old Carson Marlan was reluctant to take his eyes off the butterfly perched near his fingers to participate in a scavenger hunt taking place inside the butterfly house.

"(I) touched a butterfly,” Marlan said. “It felt tickly.”

Wright said she likes to watch the kids warm up to the butterflies. At first they may be timid, but as they watch other children interact with the butterflies, they begin to think they might want one on their finger, she said.

MSU’s Butterfly House allows visitors to engage in a personal experience with nature. Even parents, employees and college students learn to connect with the essence of life presented in the house.

“I like to watch the caterpillars make their chrysalis,” Wright said. “And it’s amazing how much they can eat in a day.”

Finance sophomore Yinglin Ma said she visited the butterfly house to take photographs for a class assignment. She wound up taking more from the experience than material for her homework.

“It’s the first time I touched a butterfly,” Ma said.

At the butterfly house, parents are engaged as well.

Lansing resident Bridget Melinn has made multiple visits to MSU’s Butterfly House in one week alone after also making a trip to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids.

Melinn said when they visited the Grand Rapids attraction, her daughter had wanted to touch the butterflies.

Coming back to campus provided the opportunity to 6-year-old Frances Melinn, who is attached to the butterfly house because she can catch the butterflies.

“I think it’s a learning experience for both of us,” Bridget Melinn said. “I love watching my daughter interact with the butterflies.”

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