Monday, November 9, 2009

Magic Wings

Saturday, November 7, dawned as a bright, sunny day, unseasonably mild for western Massachusetts. I decided it was high time I visited one of the major local attractions here, the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens. The following day the facility was celebrating its tenth year anniversary, and it is no wonder they are still going strong.

Open year round from 9 AM until 6 PM, Magic Wings is well worth your time. Besides the free-flying butterflies in the tropical greenhouse there are also birds, reptiles, amphibians, and other insects on display both inside the greenhouse and in an exhibit area that serves as the anteroom before you enter. Everything is colorful, including this red-eyed tree frog from Latin America.

The butterflies really do steal the show, though, and I personally observed at least eighteen different species flitting around, feeding at flowers, perched on foliage, or courting each other in magical, amorous displays. This male birdwing butterfly, Ornithoptera priamus, native to Papua New Guinea, finally paused during his pursuit of the opposite sex.

Much smaller butterflies of the genus Heliconius were more camera-friendly, and no two specimens seemed to be alike, let alone the different species. This “cydno,” Heliconius cydno, seemingly a subdued, dull black in natural light, positively shimmered under a camera flash. Meanwhile, the “postman,” Heliconius melpomene, exhibits a mind-boggling diversity of color patterns such that they resemble different species. Only when courting does it become apparent that they belong together.

The morning light streaming through the glass roof definitely offers you the best opportunity to observe and photograph the butterflies, but hang around awhile longer. You can take your lunch break in the cafĂ©, or go to the Monarch Restaurant next door, then return (showing the stamp on your hand) for an afternoon encore. At dusk, you will be treated to the crepuscular flights of the enormous “owl” butterflies, Caligo eurilochus. They will likely even alight on you while you are looking for other butterflies. What a way to end your day.

I’m not earning anything by endorsing this place, I just found it a pretty enchanting place to spend a day. Where else can you hear biker dudes and women and children all making exclamations of delight over insects? There is something to be said for any enterprise that can have such an effect on people, bringing out all our best qualities in a shared experience with nature, however artificial the environment.

Learn more about Magic Wings online at

1 comment:

  1. I so agree! I have been to Magic Wings and have enjoyed it as uch as you did. I am a photographer who happens to be in love with butterflies, and I find them vastly more difficult to photograph in the field, so I am very grateful such places exist. I love your site, by the way, so happy to have discovered it.


Blog author currently unable to reply to reader comments, nor comment himself. Working to resolve this.