River Festival

Botanica’s Butterfly Festival gives kids a brush with nature (VIDEO)

Butterflies at Botanica

Hundreds attended Botanica’s Butterfly Festival on Sunday, May 31, 2015, which served as the opening celebration of the Cox Butterfly House. (Matt Riedl/The Wichita Eagle)
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Hundreds attended Botanica’s Butterfly Festival on Sunday, May 31, 2015, which served as the opening celebration of the Cox Butterfly House. (Matt Riedl/The Wichita Eagle)

A freshly released white peacock butterfly perched on Taylor Mussat’s arm Sunday afternoon, and it didn’t want to go anywhere else anytime soon.

Taylor, 4, giggled as the butterfly crawled up his arm.

“It tickles,” he said of the butterfly, whom he would later refer to as “special.”

Hundreds of other kids and families attended Botanica’s Butterfly Festival on Sunday afternoon, which served as the opening celebration of the Cox Butterfly House. The butterfly house has technically been open since Memorial Day weekend, but the rain had kept some people at home, volunteers in the house said.

The first 100 kids in line on Sunday even got to release a butterfly in the house.

Lily Gencarelli, 3, was the second-to-last kid to release a butterfly. She was reluctant to touch the orange julia butterfly, content to let her mother hold it instead.

There were about 400 butterflies in the house on Sunday, said Jodi McArthur, volunteer director at Botanica.

Botanica gets its butterflies from a farm in Florida that ship by FedEx overnight express, according to information provided by Botanica. They are received both in chrysalis form and in live form.

McArthur said the gardens most often receive butterflies in chrysalis form. The live ones are typically reserved for special events like the Butterfly Festival, she said.

In the cooled package, the chrysalises are wrapped in paper towels, while live butterflies are shipped in small wax paper sleeves.

The cool, dark package simulates nighttime for the butterflies, which puts them into a slumber of sorts, said Kathy Sweeney, Botanica’s director of special events.

Butterflies get energy from sunshine, so when they are taken out of their package and released into the butterfly house, they heat up and act as butterflies normally act.

If you’ve ever wondered about the double doors at the butterfly house, they are to prevent “cross-contamination” between the Florida-bred butterflies and the native Kansas ones, McArthur said.

For that reason, it’s a federal requirement that they stay in the enclosed space.

Typically the chrysalises are kept in a temperature-controlled cabinet – available for viewing in the butterfly house – and butterflies are released by volunteers as they emerge.

Most butterflies in the house live for about two to three weeks.

The kids at Botanica didn’t really care about any of that, though. While some screamed loudly if a butterfly dared to land on them, most were eager to hold them.

“You’re the butterfly whisperer, aren’t you? Talking to him?” Taylor’s dad, Domenic, asked.

“He loves me, daddy,” Taylor replied.

“He loves you? Is that your best friend, or am I your best friend?” Domenic Mussat asked.

As of press time, that question remained unanswered.

Botanica’s Butterfly Festival is a part of Riverfest activities. For more information about upcoming Riverfest events, visit kansas.com/riverfest.

Hundreds attended Botanica’s Butterfly Festival on Sunday, May 31, 2015, which served as the opening celebration of the Cox Butterfly House. (Matt Riedl/The Wichita Eagle)

Reach Matt Riedl at 316-268-6660 or mriedl@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RiedlMatt.

By the numbers

Botanica’s Cox Butterfly House

▪ $3 to $5: Cost per butterfly

▪ 150: Chrysalises received per week

▪ Two to three weeks: How long a butterfly will remain in the chrysalis

▪ 35: Species of butterflies allowed in the house

▪ 20: Varieties of butterflies typically found in the house

▪ 500: Maximum number of butterflies in the house at one time

▪ 2,880: Square footage of the butterfly house

Source: Botanica Wichita

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