Butterfly House Sets Flight in the Berkshires

Project Native
Native Butterfly House
A New Community-Based Educational Resource

“People see a beautiful butterfly but they don’t connect it to their landscape,” Project Native Education Director Karen LeBlanc said. “With the butterfly house they will understand that caterpillars need certain plants to live and eat. If you don’t have the plants, you’re not going to get the butterfly.”

Promoting the connection between native habitats and local wildlife, Project Native has opened a Native Butterfly House open to the public at its native plant nursery in Housatonic, just 4 miles north of Great Barrington, MA. Take a tour of this new educational facility on Friday, August 16th from 10am-12noon, or come to the kick-off party in the evening from 5-6:30pm.

The new 35-by-55-foot structure encloses a garden of native plants grown at Project Native, all of which support the life cycle of native butterflies. Staff and visiting children have been collecting native butterflies from the Project Native property to populate the butterfly house, which is open to the public daily from 10 to 4.

“This is a great addition to Project Native,” General Manager David Ellis said. “It is a terrific educational resource and a great attraction. It will serve as the keystone for our educational programs which show the importance of native habitats in sustaining our wildlife.” Groups of children have gone on butterfly safaris for several weekends in search of caterpillars and butterflies to populate the enclosed garden. There are two more butterfly safaris this summer, Wednesday, August 21st from 1-2:30pm and Saturday, August 24th from 9:30-10:30am. An advanced bug safari for kids ages 8 and oler happens on Sunday, Augutst 18th from 2:30-4:30pm.

Project Native’s mission is to promote, restore and sustain native habitats in the Berkshire Taconic region. The 13-year-old non-profit organization grows native plants from seeds collected in the region and makes them available to the public. The fields and forests of the 54-acre former dairy farm have been largely cleared of invasive plants to restore its landscape with native habitats that include trails, a native-plant seed bank, and educational activities. Native plants as defined by Project Native, are plants that existed in the region prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century.

LeBlanc first conceived of the butterfly house after placing caterpillars in small butterfly huts on the property. Soon she discovered that visitors and staff were fascinated by watching the life cycle as a caterpillar becomes a chrysalis and then emerges as a butterfly, and proposed building a structure large enough to contain permanent plantings and facilitate learning…

“It’s so important that it be about the habitat and the life of the butterfly, otherwise it’s just a zoo where you just see animals but walk away not really understanding anything new about nature,” LeBlanc said. “Our butterfly house is a catalyst to learn about what is going on around you with the habitat and environment. It’s sometimes hard to get people interested in plants, especially children, but give them something that crawls and has wings and they are a lot more interested.”

Some of the butterflies in the house now include the great spangled fritillary, monarchs, tiger swallowtails, black swallowtails, spicebush swallowtails, as well as several moths. The early reaction from visitors has been very enthusiastic.

“We had one person who thought we had painted gold on the monarch chrysalis, but no – that’s just the way Mother Nature works,” LeBlanc said. “It’s been so exciting to watch and learn as we do this. They’ve become like our own pets. We want to see how they are doing and the ways they are developing. It’s a wonderful thing to watch.”

Project Native is located at 342 North Plain Road (Rt 41) in Housatonic, MA, open from 9:30am-5pm Monday through Saturday and 10:30am-5pm Sunday, from mid-April through November. For more information, visit www.projectnative.org or call 413-274-3433.

- Submitted by Karen Lyness LeBlanc

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