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Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium

Lowcountry residents that visit the city of New Orleans can sense a connection to the culture and history found there. Architecture in the French Quarter can resemble historical homes found in Charleston, and the expansive waterfront views are reminiscent of Beaufort. Cajun food and spirited ghost tours are always on tap after dark, but what about daytime options for the whole family to experience. The Audubon Butterfly Garden located downtown on Canal Street is easy to access and offers a comprehensive look at all insect life, complete with a living butterfly exhibit with a cadre of constant colorful wingbeats.
The Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans also manages and operates the city aquarium and the zoo in Audubon Park. The Insectarium location is unique since it is inside the U.S. Customs House on Canal Street. The towering stone building still operates handling legal matters, but a side entrance leads to the museum-like setting for the Insectarium. This collection of bugs and butterflies is kept under tight security since everyone must empty their pockets and pass through a metal detector to gain entrance to the federal facility.
After entering the Insectarium, tickets can be purchased at $30 for an adult and $22 for children. Next up is a group photo opportunity, so that those wishing to purchase a keepsake image may do so. Photography of the insects and the exhibits is allowed throughout the Insectarium. Oversized replicas of insects line the walls of the hallway that leads to different areas that convey education about differing species like centipedes, termites and moths. The section that draws a lot of inquires is their Bug Appetit cafeteria where bold visitors can actually consume some edible insects. Lucky for me I was not visiting during my lunch hour, and I salute those that choose to dine here.
The final exhibit is the Butterflies in Flight gallery, which is presented in a setting that replicates an Asian garden. Complete with a coy pond, and a roaming red-footed tortoise, the bounty of butterflies found here are bouncing from one perch to another. Both the entry and the exit from this garden are guarded with double doors so that visitors can be sure that no butterflies escape their confines. The temperature inside the butterfly garden is kept between 80 and 85-degrees with an average of 85-percent humidity, conditions which feel very familiar to visitors from the Lowcountry.
Brad Hyatt is an entomologist at the Audubon Insectarium and he shared more than a few insightful thoughts about the butterfly gallery. “Our staff is unique because we do husbandry work part of the time in the pupae room and education work here in the butterfly garden,” said Hyatt. “Adult butterflies have a life span of just two to four-weeks before they die, so we bring in almost 4000 of them a month, at a cost that ranges from three to five-dollars each.”
“Butterflies can be shipped when they are in their chrysalis form, which is a very hardy stage in their lifespan,” said Hyatt. “We bring in butterfly species from a wide swath of the globe, and butterfly farming is fast becoming a business that supports conservation of their species. It’s another niche of the ecotourism sector that is doing a good job of raising awareness with the public about all forms of nature.”
The butterflies in this garden are all flying from one tropical flower bloom to another, or finding a bright warm perch to rest in. With the high concentration of butterflies they also have supplemental feeding station in place, like a banana sliced open and layed flat. One station resembles a birdbath with a mist net tied over the top of it, and I was surprised to find out that they keep Gatorade in these small bowls. The butterflies I saw came in different colors including blue, brown, black, red, gray, yellow, orange and any combination of those same colors that one can imagine.
Visitors can make as many trips through the Insectarium as they wish, and each pass through the butterfly garden may reveal something different. A comprehensive gift shop holds an array of insect-themed collectibles and anyone with an affinity for butterflies would be pleased with these high-quality options. Upon exiting the building back onto Canal Street, visitors are right back in the heart of the city, ready to visit Royal Street looking for the sights and sounds that make New Orleans a top tourist draw. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (360 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com