A Butterfly High

Tomato appeared on roof vine! Potted in shallow pan at that. Also, in the evening an enormous butterfly flew in the window…. Most beautiful creature, six inch wings almost of delicate pink verging on beige with a sky blue stripe….

Dawn Powell
July 30, 1958

(New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009. p. 242.)

If you have not been so fortunate as to spot one of these lovelies in the wilds of Manhattan, let me recommend the next best thing; a visit to the Butterfly Conservatory at the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West.

The exhibit is annual, running early October through May. Visitors are allowed to walk freely through a vivarium, a simulated rain-forest. No chasing or petting of the butterflies, but if one lands on your sleeve, you may keep still and observe it. The forest is staffed by extremely informative personnel who carry around wedges of citrus fruit with b-flies languidly feeding on them.

You may expect to find the iridescent Morpho peleides, scarlet swallowtails and owl butterflies – so named for the spots like large dark eyes on on their undersides. Anywhere from 150 to 500 free-flying tropicals.

A glass case near the entrance displays part of the collection of the novelist, Vladimir Nabokov, an ardent lepidopterist, who is credited with discovering a Lysandra cormion. Is it a hybrid of two existing species or a distinctly new one? Still a matter for debate, among lepidopterists.

The Buttefly Conservancy is open until May 28.

For a look inside:

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