Chilled Out Butterflies | Desert Botanical Garden


Each week while the Butterfly Pavilion is open, Desert Botanical Garden receives more than 1,000 fluttery critters from butterfly farms in California, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida. Rachel Nelsen, the Garden’s exhibit coordinator, manages the butterfly pavilion and is tasked with putting on the exhibit in the spring and fall. 

Butterflies are shipped to the Garden in two different life stages. Some arrive in their chrysalis, the stage between caterpillar and adult, and will reside in the nursery until they emerge. The other butterflies arrive as adults ready to take flight in the exhibit.

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The Garden’s suppliers safely ship both stages of the butterfly each week — and the way they do so is by refrigerating the butterflies! Did you know butterflies are cold blooded animals like reptiles? When their bodies get down to a cold enough temperature, the butterflies enter a sleep-like state. The butterflies are carefully packaged with ice packs in an insulated container at 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit throughout their journey.

The chrysalis gets packaged in cotton or another soft material that protects and insulates them.

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Adult butterflies arrive in tiny wax paper envelopes with their wings closed together. This method is important because it keeps the butterflies from flapping their wings so they can’t be damaged during transit.

When the Garden receives the butterfly package, Garden staff takes them to the butterfly nursery, which is a special room in the exhibit that meets USDA requirements to contain insects. Staff carefully opens the package and starts laying out the envelopes of butterflies so they can be counted and assessed for health.

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Then, all the adult butterflies get moved to the exhibit. As their bodies warm up to match the air around them, they get ready to fly! The envelope keeps them safe so they can’t damage their wings, and once Garden staff opens the envelope they are free to fly out to a nearby flower to eat!

The Spring Butterfly Exhibit is included with general admission. Tickets must be purchased in advance.


April 17-19 Center for Desert Living Trail will be closed due to construction.
April 20 The Garden will close at 12 p.m., last admission 10:30 a.m.
April 20 Cactus Clubhouse will be closed.