Butterfly House Anniversary | By Mary Shapiro
After more than 20 years in Faust Park, the Butterfly House’s main inhabitants — butterflies and various insects and invertebrates — will have more space to grow in an expanded entomology lab.
The butterflies that live at the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House in Chesterfield are the perfect ambassadors for their wild cousins – especially as the facility celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
“Having this great exhibit in the St. Louis area provides an opportunity for people to see butterflies from around the world without having to travel far from their own zip code,” said Jennifer Mullix, assistant director of the facility.
The Butterfly House, inspired by the late Evelyn Newman, has been located since 1998 at 15193 Olive Blvd., in St. Louis County’s Faust Park. The Butterfly House became a division of the Missouri Botanical Garden in 2001.
Mullix said it offers the chance for the nearly 140,000 visitors every year to see thousands of butterflies representing more than 60 species fly freely in an 8,000-square-foot conservatory.
Visitors to the Butterfly House also can explore the outdoor native butterfly garden, take part in hands-on activities in the Lopata Learning Lab, view invertebrate habitats in the exhibit hall, and more.
The facility's mission is “to foster a greater understanding of the relationships between animals and plants in the environment in order to promote the conservation and restoration of natural habitats” — and Mullix said that's especially carried out for the more 10,000 children who take part in educational programs there annually.
In 2003, the Butterfly House became the first stand-alone insectarium to be accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA).
“We're going through our reaccreditation in September,” Mullix said, adding that process must be done every five years.
The Butterfly House maintains an important partnership with El Bosque Nuevo, a butterfly conservation organization in Costa Rica that practices sustainable butterfly farming and contributes to the preservation of the tropical rain forest. The majority of tropical butterflies displayed at the Butterfly House are purchased from El Bosque Nuevo, which provides stable, sustainable jobs for Costa Ricans. El Bosque Nuevo designates all of their profits from insect sales to acquire rainforest areas for conservation, reforestation, research, and preservation in Costa Rica.
“We have conservation initiatives locally, nationally and internationally,” Mullix said. “Locally, we have a program we started in 2015, Project Pollinator, a community gardening initiative which promotes fostering of pollinator gardens throughout the community.”
The feature exhibit of the Butterfly House is the 8,000-square-foot tropical conservatory, a natural and safe habitat for more than 1,500 butterflies daily.
Adjacent to the conservatory is the 180-square-foot entomology laboratory, a quarantine space certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. It receives about 40,000 shipped butterfly chrysalises annually.
Staff entomologists use this space to unpack, inspect, and process the chrysalises. The current lab contains a case for the butterflies and moths to emerge from their chrysalises and cocoons, the entomology team office, and the homes of more than an additional 200 invertebrate animals.
Mullix said that it's now essential for the Butterfly House to address the deterioration of the lab, including limited functional work space for the staff and volunteers and lack of impactful exhibit interpretation.
“The current laboratory is far too small for the work needed to maintain the Butterfly House collections,” Mullix said.
“When we began, the Butterfly House was focused on the gift shop and butterflies. Over the course of the past couple decades, our invertebrate collection increased. We have used the entomology lab not just for the butterflies but also for hundreds of other insects and invertebrates who call the lab home. More room is needed for all of them. Our goal for the expanded lab is to create an interactive experience for guests to engage with our entomology staff to get a deeper understanding of the important work they do daily.”
Plans are to expand the lab by about another 150 square feet, with construction set to start in November 2019 and be completed by around February 2020.
“The project’s fundraising campaign launched with June’s Metamorphosis Gala, but we still need additional support to reach our goal,” Mullix said.
Mullix said the new design will nearly double the size of the current lab and will also include interactive interpretation of a butterfly’s life cycle, “meet the keeper” opportunities with entomology staff, and new animal habitats for the invertebrate animal collection.
“This expansion will improve the functionality of the space while creating an interactive exhibit where our guests can learn more about the important work in the field of entomology and conservation,” she said.
For more information on the Butterfly House, its events and supporting the campaign for the new entomology lab, visit www.butterflyhouse.org.