Friday, March 21, 2014

Fairchild Gardens – Butterflies and More!

There are more than plants and flowers at the Miami metropolitan area’s Fairchild Gardens!  The Lisa D. Anness Butterfly Garden is an exhibit within the park that attracts a lot of attention…

The butterfly garden showcases plants that attract and sustain butterflies throughout their lifecycle.  Butterflies and plants have a symbiotic relationship… they depend on each other for survival.  Plants provide caterpillars and butterflies food and shelter, while butterflies pollinate flowering plants, helping to ensure their reproduction.

Butterflies lay their eggs on “host plants.” These plants provide food for caterpillars after they hatch.  In some cases, butterflies are very particular about the plants on which they lay their eggs and will only lay them on a certain species or a group of closely related species.  For example, milkweed is a plant critical to the propagation of Monarch Butterflies.

An owl butterfly is a butterfly that’s known for their huge eyespots, which resemble owls' eyes.  They are found in the rainforests and secondary forests of Mexico, Central, and South America.

The butterflies didn’t necessarily cooperate with Laurie and I as we took or tried to take quality photos…  Despite the gentleman in the background, I kept this photo because of the interesting and complex markings on the wings of this butterfly.

Did you know that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 species of butterflies worldwide!?  To learn more about butterflies and to find links to a large number of photos, just go to

Many adult butterflies drink nectar from the flowers of “nectar plants.”  These are usually more general than the specific ‘host’ plants, (i.e., plants that they’ll lay their eggs on), although some butterflies also have preferences when it comes to nectar.  As any serious gardener knows, a variety of nectar plants is important when it comes to attracting and keeping butterflies. 

The following link provides a list of over 800 butterflies that populate at least parts of North America…just the part of America north of Mexico!  Check it out and click on a few photos just to get an idea of the variety involved…

Imagine three thousand (3,000) butterflies!  That’s roughly how many are on display every day at the Lisa D. Anness Butterfly Garden, (The Wings of the Tropics Exhibit), in The Clinton Family Conservatory.  Thousands of exotic butterflies from Central America, South America and Asia perform their aerial displays all around the Exhibit’s visitors.  These butterflies represent about 40 different species at any given time!

Owl butterflies are very large, (2.6–7.9 in), and they fly only a few meters at a time, so birds have little difficulty in following them to their settling place.  To offset this problem, they prefer to fly around dusk, when fewer predatory birds are around.

The garden orders their winged guests in pupae stage from breeders in Central and South America and the Philippines, about 1,000 weekly.  Although about 40 species are on exhibit at any time, the exhibit has a permit from the USDA to import and display about 200 species!

New arrivals can be spotted inside the Vollmer Metamorphosis Lab behind glass where visitors can see the labeled chrysalises.  Twice a day, new butterflies are released into the conservatory in front of guests.  We didn’t attempt to photograph the Lab though its windows.  The area in front of the Lab was crowded…obviously very popular with visitors…especially children…

We thought that it was “inconsiderate” of the butterflies because they refuse to wear little signs that told us what species they were… They must be unionized!

Many states have ‘State Butterflies’.  For example, Florida has the Zebra Long Wing, Illinois has the Monarch and Tennessee has chosen the Zebra Swallowtail.

To read more about the Wings of the Tropics Exhibit at Fairchild Gardens, just go to: This exhibit has only been open for a little over 15 months… The opening date was on December 1, 2012.

The butterflies were everywhere!  They landed on visitor’s hands, shoulders, heads and…as you can see above…even their feet.  We had to be careful to watch where we stepped…

We did note one problem.  Some children and their parents didn’t follow the rules.  Much to the frustration of the docents/attendants, they tried to capture and hold some of the butterflies…even by pinching the butterflies’ wings between their fingers! The children’s behavior was no surprise…given the ‘attitude’ displayed by their parents…

Many of the plants found in the Lisa D. Anness Butterfly Garden are native to South Florida.  Some of the plants are commonly considered weeds…but they are essential to butterflies’ survival.  Common examples include Spanish needle, a popular nectar source, scarlet milkweed and frogfruit, a host for the Phaon Crescent and White Peacock butterflies.

We didn't capture any pictures, but did I mention that the gardens are also home for a number of hummingbirds?  They were very busy darting from plant to plant or even to the fruit feeding stations.  They particularly like mango.  Whereas the hummingbirds would be a major attraction in most exhibits, they were definitely secondary to all of the colorful butterflies flitting through the garden.  

For more on the butterfly exhibit at the Fairchild Garden, just go to

I also discovered a website all about butterflies.  If you’re interested in viewing a wide selection of these insects…and in butterflies in general, this is a true hobbyist’s site.  Go to

We did spot a couple other animals on the grounds of Fairchild Gardens.  This Great Egret was stalking the grounds looking for an early dinner.  This wide ranging egret is distributed across most of the tropical and warmer temperate regions of the world.  Of course, here in North America, in warm weather it ranges up into Canada. 

These birds are up to 3 feet 4 inches tall with a wingspan of as much as 5.5 feet from tip to tip.  As big as these birds are, their average weight is only about 2.2 pounds!  These gardens must be ‘egret paradise’… They feed on fish, frogs, small mammals, small reptiles and insects, spearing them with their long sharp bill.
I ran across one website in which a visitor to Fairchild Garden observed a Great Egret spearing and consuming a fish and a couple of small snakes.  FYI…the Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.

I’ll end this posting with a photo of this handsome illegal immigrant to the USA.  He is an African Redhead Agana.  They were first observed in south Florida back in 1976.  They have since expanded their range and it appears that they are living and breeding in 6 counties at this point.  They were first reported in the area near an exotic pet store in Dade County.

It must have been ‘that time of the year’ because breeding males of the West African subspecies have brilliant orange heads, an indigo blue or black body and legs, and a tail that is bluish white at the base and has an orange middle segment and black tail tip.  Males may reach 30 cm (12 in) long, but females are smaller.  These active, agile, and wary lizards often bask facing the sun, and sun-warmed lizards are more brightly colored than cooler ones.  Outside of the breeding season, the male is a plain brown.

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. What a beautiful place and your shots of the butterflies are fabulous David. They aren't easy to photograph and they can get away before you know it. I've never seen the Owl butterfly. He is quite something.

    Thanks for the kind words of encouragement on physical therapy. I've been several times before and it has always helped. Every day I faithfully do my therapy stretches. We too go to the Wellness Center to stay fit, and as you said so well, keep the doctor away. As you age I think that is one of the biggest keys to good health - if you don't move it, you lose it.

    Hope you and Laurie have a lovely weekend.

  2. I love Butterfly Gardens ---and you certainly enjoyed a fabulous one. There are so many beautiful butterflies, aren't there???

    Love the egret also... Hope you have a great weekend.

  3. I would never have dreamed there were that many butterfly species

  4. The butterflies are beautiful, love them, especially the black and white striped one. You're a great photographer! Not so crazy about the little red-headed guy though! :-)

  5. Dear Dave, Such a beautiful treat to see all of these butterflies.
    I will refer to these tips to plant some flowers that will attract more butterflies to the garden. That would be so nice.
    How awful that parents and their children were trying to capture these butterflies, I hope they did not harm the butterflies.
    Beautiful and interesting post.
    Blessings, Catherine