Thursday, July 21, 2005

Butterfly Festival this weekend at the Hershey Gardens

"Please check yourself for hitch-hiking butterflies," says a sign on the door of the Butterfly House at Hershey Gardens, now in its eighth season.

It's that time of year again. The temperature is rising above 80 degrees and the butterflies are out - or inside, depending on where you look.

Hershey Garden's Butterfly Festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 23, rain or shine. The celebration will take place in and around the Children's Garden and the Butterfly House at Hershey Gardens. It is included in general admission price.

It's a unique place," John Fortino, Butterfly House coordinator, said. "When it was built, there were less than 10 houses. Today there are [almost] 30."

The original structure was a greenhouse built by Milton Hershey in 1930. It was later moved to various venues until it was repurchased by the Gardens. The glass of the house was later removed and replaced with a mesh covering.

One might confess to not being a nature lover. However, Fortino insists that there is something for everyone at the Butterfly House.

"Some guys come into the Butterfly House and look like they have been dragged along by a girlfriend or wife," he said. "But then they really enjoy it and their eyes just light up."

The entire life cycle of a butterfly can be viewed inside the structure. At the entrance, a box of chrysalises hangs on the wall and visitors can watch the insects as they emerge from their protective covering. The chrysalises are purchased and adhered to the case using, surprisingly, Elmer's glue.

"It gets annoying when people call them cocoons," Fortino said. "They're called chrysalises. Cocoons are for moths."

The average life span of a butterfly is 10 to 17 days so chrysalises are consistently being purchased to stock the house's 300-butterfly capacity.

"When people walk through, it's a new environment," Fortino said. "In nature, you're never going to encounter 300 butterflies in one place."

For educational purposes, plaques are posted throughout the house to explain the natural activities of a butterfly including the roosting stage where butterflies absorb shade in a nearby tree.

"A lot of people also go there to enjoy the quiet," Fortino explained. "Overall, there is a wide range of visitors."

For those who enjoy interactive experiences, butterflies will sometimes land on observers if the temperature is right, explaining the need for the sign and mirror near the door.

"Sometimes they'll go after body perspiration," Fortino explained. "But they're really looking for food or a mate. Sometimes they will think you are a plant, but when they realize you're not, they'll take off."

Serving as a butterfly landing spot is allowed, but deliberately handling the insects is prohibited, as grabbing hands can take a toll on the wings.

"People rub the wings and think it is dust. It isn't dust," Fortino said. "It's the scales on the wing, and if you rub the wrong way, you could damage the wings and the butterfly might not be able to fly."

To teach students, the Butterfly House is located near the Gardens' Education Center where three-part classes are given to school children detailing the life cycle and the difference between a butterfly and a moth and featuring a tour of the house.

"There's a lot to learn here," Fortino said. "I thought I knew a lot, but I'm still learning."

Aiding in the teaching process are several volunteers ranging in age from 14 to 82.

"Our volunteers are wonderful," Fortino said. "We don't choose them. They choose us."

Currently, the Butterfly House is home to 25 varieties of butterfly, including the newly- added Brazilian Heliconius Erato (Small Postman) butterfly. Last year, more than 120,000 people experienced the education that the house has to offer.

"If they don't learn anything about butterflies when they're here, I don't know where else they are going to learn about it," Fortino said.

For more information about admission prices and hours, contact the Hershey Gardens at 534-3492 or visit the Web site at



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