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Butterfly Pavilion

A colorful, interactive experience

Article by Allison Bankston

Photography by Christian Huerta, Christian Unlimited

Originally published in Arvada Lifestyle

Butterfly Pavilion (BP) is a colorful, fascinating zoo that exists to foster an appreciation for invertebrates (animals without backbones). The nonprofit in Westminster educates the public about the importance of protecting invertebrates and their threatened habitats, while also conducting research.

Started by the Rocky Mountain Butterfly Consortium, Butterfly Pavilion sits on an eleven-acre site that was provided by the City of Westminster. It is the first stand-alone Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited nonprofit invertebrate zoo in the world and a leader in the field. They strive to provide a hands-on, direct experience for people of all ages. 

Wings of the Tropics is the largest exhibit and the biggest draw. Community Programs Manager Alyce Todd says people come to see the butterflies, which are all tropical—mainly from South and Central America and Southeast Asia. Then guests discover the zoo also has aquatic animals, spiders, beetles, and much more. In the conservatory, you’ll see butterflies you wouldn't see in Colorado naturally. “I think people are most surprised by the  access and being able to see the butterflies up close,” says Alyce. “They're flying animals that move quickly, so we give you an opportunity in a concentrated space to see them in action."

The zoo has butterfly feeding stations spread throughout the conservatory. The butterflies need a lot of food around to survive. Alyce says there are 80 species of butterflies there at any given time. “They vary dramatically in size and color. One of the things I find incredible is the wings can look different when they are closed or open. It's part of their camouflage that keeps them safe.” BP houses more than 5,000 animals. 

Butterfly Pavilion is a self-guided zoo you can go through as quickly or slowly as desired, and people are always around if you have questions. During the school year, a lot of classes visit for field trips.

Visiting the Survival Exhibit to hold Rosie the Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula is considered a right of passage in the greater Denver area. “We have several Rosies,” says Alyce. “They can live up to 30 years, and we have several we can rotate throughout the day to interact with the public. We put each tarantula through a testing process to make sure they'll be comfortable being handled, and we have a breeding program that allows us to ensure we can help sustain populations.  Alyce says they’re not as intimidating as people might think. 

The Water's Edge Exhibit includes underwater invertebrates which mostly live in saltwater. There's an interactive touch area with all sorts of crabs and other animals. “Being in a landlocked state, we're not exposed to sea creatures as often,” says Alyce. “So having that face-to-face, hands-on experience and actually touching them brings a world view to folks who normally might not be able to experience that.”

Pollinators, such as bees, are another major focus of Butterfly Pavilion which is a leader in their conservation. The zoo provides education on beekeeping including both classroom lectures and outdoor, hands-on training. At the end of the classes, people have the know-how to operate and maintain their own hives at home. 

One of every three bites of food you have comes as the result of pollinators. With declines in global insect populations, BP’s mission is critical today. Invertebrates are everywhere, and they live where people live.

Butterfly Pavilion is also available for private parties, weddings, and evening corporate events. Alyce says the animals behave differently at night, leading to memorable experiences. 

To learn more about Butterfly Pavilion's exhibits, educational opportunities, and special events, visit butterflies.org or stop by the nonprofit at 6252 West 104th Avenue in Westminster. 

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