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The Cockrell's Gift to the Houston Area

Butterflies bringing joy

Year round, countless residents of The Woodlands and Montgomery County leave the forest to enjoy making a day of it in the rainforest, communing with the butterflies.

“In 1991, the Cockrell Foundation and several other major benefactors came together to raise the funds needed for the construction of the Cockrell Butterfly Center. Completed and open to the public on July 1, 1994, the Cockrell Butterfly Center helped position HMNS as one of the premiere science museums in the nation. Visitation to the facility exceeded all expectations and launched the Museum into a new era of service to the Houston community.”

The Houston Museum of Natural Science’s CEO Joel Bartsch finds that giving is very strong. “We’ve been fortunate to have extremely engaged and generous patrons who care deeply about our institution and who are committed to seeing it thrive,” Bartsch says. “This spirit of philanthropy spans several decades and continues into the current day, and we remain humbled and grateful for this sustained support.”

He oversees the magnificent Cockrell Butterfly Center, a mecca for nature lovers and people from 1 to 91. Nonagenarian Lee Roy Smith, Jr. toured the center last week and said, “I think they must have just received new shipments of butterflies – I’ve never seen so many. I was also impressed with the variety of blooming plant life with some exquisite colors.”

Cockrell Butterfly Center attendance:

  • 2023: 202,887 (Through July 2023)

  • 2022: 267,145 (Center was closed for renovations from Fall 2022 through Spring Break 2023)

  • 2021: 271,320

Cockrell Butterfly Center historical facts:

  • Since it opened in 1994, one of the main goals of the Cockrell Butterfly Center has been to promote butterfly watching, pollinator gardening and insect and other arthropod conservation. Educational programs such as Bugs on Wheels, which takes live insects into area schools, encourage the understanding and respect for insects and their habitats.

  • Recently, after 6 months of renovations, the Center reopened its doors on March 10, 2023. Our “metamorphosis” focused on the rainforest conservatory and included replacing all 535 panes of glass, widening and resurfacing the pathways, and upgrading the lighting. Most patrons cannot tell the difference, but the butterflies and plants sure can! The new windows let in additional light, allowing our flora and fauna to flourish in the upgraded exhibit. The new pathways and additional benches also increased accessibility in the exhibit, making it more enjoyable for everyone.

  • During our reopening, a new program named “Flight School” was introduced. Patrons have the opportunity to take on the role of “flight trainers” as they release a live butterfly into the conservatory, taking its maiden flight. This experience is available daily on a first come, first served basis.

  • At any time, visitors can see around 1,500-2,000 exotic butterflies from 60-70 species in the exhibit.

  • Our visitors can even watch them emerging from their chrysalises!

  • HMNS also has an insect zoo that is attached to the Center that is included in admission.

  • The rainforest exhibit where the butterflies are flying is also home to thousands of living tropical plants. Notable species:

  • Cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao)

  • Coffee plant (Coffea arabica)

  • Pride of Trinidad (Warszewiczia coccinea)

  • Calabash tree (Crescentia cujete)

  • The exhibit also features a 50 ft. waterfall, cenote (sinkhole), and even a few reptiles!

  • There is nowhere else in Texas where you can see live, exotic butterflies in a simulated, 3-story tall tropical rainforest!