Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Butterfly Magic in Tucson

Last Sunday, January 21, I visited the “Butterfly Magic” exhibit of live tropical butterflies at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. This is the sixth anniversary of what has become an annual event, lasting several months. The current incarnation opened on October 12, 2009 and will continue through April 30, 2010.

Despite being dramatically smaller than dedicated butterfly houses like Magic Wings, the confines of the tropical greenhouse boast a surprising diversity of species. I spent more than five hours there and was finding “new” species right up until my departure. The volunteers for the exhibit release newly-emerged specimens at least three times per day, but many of the butterflies already in the room are cryptic enough to escape detection by the average visitor.

One of the unfortunate aspects of any butterfly display facility is the difficulty in taking images of the butterflies in as “natural” a setting as possible. Some of the insects seem to park themselves at those ugly feeding stations, making for far less than a photogenic opportunity.

Then it never fails that the best shot you could possibly hope for also includes an out-of-focus person in the background wearing bright clothing. How do you politely say “Ma’am, you’re in my shot?” Mostly, you wait for the background personnel to clear and hope the butterfly has waited as well.

The Tucson Botanical Gardens solve part of the photographic problem by setting aside time strictly for photographers, without competing crowds, but it is at the end of the day when the incoming sunlight is not particularly good, and they charge double the normal admission price.

Still, one can’t complain, and you can still get stunning images of a great many species. Just be prepared for the obligatory heat and humidity, and understand it will take your camera lens at least ten minutes to become steam-free. I’ll be sharing more of my own images in the coming weeks for those who want to live vicariously through my blog.

Each trip promises to be different because the TBG has scheduled different shipments of butterflies from different parts of the world each month. October and November of last year featured native butterflies from Arizona and other parts of the southern U.S. December’s butterflies were from Australia. January was for African species, and February will spotlight Asian butterflies. March and April will be a veritable cornucopia of species from throughout the world.

Admission to this special show runs $12.00 US for adults, $6.50 for children 4-12 years of age, and is free for children 3 and under. Hours of the exhibit are 10 AM – 3 PM daily. The gardens themselves are open from 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM, and worth the visit all by themselves. The TBG has been rightly called an “oasis” in the heart of midtown Tucson. Enjoy!

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  1. Eric this looks like a fascinating place to visit. I've been to a couple of butterfly houses in Missouri, one in the Branson area and one at Powell Gardens...both were wonderful places to see a large diversity of butterflies. I have pictures of them landing on our daughter, she was very young at the time and completely excited by the whole experience. It does make it a challenge from a photographers stand point though to capture images of these flying flowers. People walking in front of your camera, bad lighting, kids bumping into you...etc. All-in-all though these places are well worth visiting.

  2. It's always fun to explore the tropical butterflies - they are just everywhere! But I noticed, most of the butterfly conservatories ban use of flash to photograph butterflies, I wonder why?

  3. Admittedly, the butterflies are gorgeous! Never had the opportunity to visit a butterfly house, but looks like fun.

  4. Hmmm! Is it really a good idea to import butterflies from other places? Could that be endangering some populations? Plus, the possibility of some escaping and becoming established where they don't belong?
    Yes, of course, they are gorgeous, and it is a real treat to see them alive, and you can learn a thing or two from those captive specimens; but all and all, I don't think that we should encourage this kind of thing. I only visit butterfly houses that exhibit native butterflies, if at all.

  5. Aniruddha, I was able to use my flash without complaint, but rarely needed to. There is generally enough natural light streaming into these exhibits to take good images. I suspect any "ban" on flash photography might be to avoid triggering an epileptic seizure in a human visitor. Just a thought....Mizz Bee: The exotic butterflies are "farmed" by people in their countries of origin, creating jobs and not depleting wild stock. Actually, some of the reared specimens are also released back into the wild to help replenish those wild populations. Meanwhile, every butterfly exhibit must adhere to strict USDA codes for containment to insure no escapes.


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