This is one of the best spring butterfly exhibits you’ll experience

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PHOENIX (Desert Botanical Garden) - Nothing says spring like butterflies. These delightful creatures are some of Mother Nature’s most enchanting work.

Butterflies are essential to our ecosystems because they are pollinators like bees. And with their unique life cycle, butterflies have long symbolized growth, transformation, hope, and rebirth.

Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix celebrates the season of the butterfly every spring, giving visitors of all ages the opportunity to enjoy up-close encounters with these flying works of art.

Majestic Mariposas at Desert Botanical Garden
Majestic Mariposas at Desert Botanical Garden will be open through May 14. Entry is included with Garden admission or membership.

Majestic Mariposas is an unforgettable experience for the entire family. The Cohn Family Spring Butterfly Exhibit features more than 2,000 butterflies representing 10 to 15 different species. They’re all native to the Southwest, including queen butterflies, giant swallowtails, the largest butterflies in North America, painted ladies, and monarchs, known for their gorgeous orange wings.

“We will be open seven days a week through Sunday, May 14,” said Dannielle Leyshon, the exhibits coordinator at Desert Botanical Garden. “Our hours are from 9:30 in the morning through 5 in the afternoon because that’s when the butterflies are the happiest.”

Can you imagine a butterfly being anything but happy?

Majestic Mariposas at Desert Botanical Garden
(Desert Botanical Garden)

Caterpillar kids grow up to be butterflies (or moths)

One of the most fascinating things about butterflies is their life cycle. Butterflies go through a process called metamorphosis, which means they swap bodies as they grow from juveniles to adults. It’s similar to a tadpole becoming a frog, but you don’t see day-to-day changes.

Butterfly eggs don’t hatch tiny butterflies. They hatch caterpillars, and those caterpillars have one job. Eating! (Surely, you’ve heard of the classic children’s story “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”) Caterpillars, which are rather plain in terms of looks, will eat and eat and eat some more until they’re about 100 times larger than they were when they hatched. They molt - shed their skins like snakes – as they grow until it’s time for the biggest change of their lives.

If you learned that butterflies emerge from silk cocoons, you’re wrong. (Thanks for that, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”) Some caterpillars do spin cocoons, but they emerge as moths, not butterflies.

When a butterfly caterpillar is finished growing, it creates a hard shell around itself. It’s called a chrysalis, and it’s built to blend in with its surroundings. If you see one hanging from a plant leaf or branch, it doesn’t look like much of anything. Inside, however, radical changes are taking place.

The caterpillar dissolves into a soupy substance that grows into a delicate body, long legs, antennae, and colorful scaly wings. Metamorphosis can take a few weeks or even months, but when the butterfly finally emerges, it looks nothing like the caterpillar it once was. You might witness this little miracle if you visit Majestic Mariposas at the right time.

“It’s a magical moment,” Leyshon said. “We really like to showcase the full life cycle of a butterfly because it is so unique and amazing.”

“Although the butterfly and the caterpillar are completely different, they are one and the...
“Although the butterfly and the caterpillar are completely different, they are one and the same.” ~ Kendrick Lamar(Photo by Adam Rodriguez)

Majestic Mariposas

Desert Botanical Garden’s Butterfly Pavilion is designed to be the ultimate happy place for butterflies, called las mariposas in Spanish. It’s filled with their favorite plants and has plenty of spots for them to sun themselves. Butterflies like nothing more than a lovely sunny day. Sunny, but not scorching. They are most active, flitting from plant to plant, when the temperature is in the low to mid-70s.

These exquisite insects - yes, they are insects - beg to be photographed, and there are plenty of opportunities to snap some Insta-worthy shots when you visit the Pavilion. The butterflies might be perched on a flower, nibbling on a snack, or simply sunbathing. And if you’re lucky, one might decide to spend a few minutes with you. If one chooses to land on you (or your child), be sure you don’t touch its wings. Butterflies are delicate creatures; you wouldn’t want to hurt one accidentally.

The wings of butterflies are covered with tiny scales, which they shed throughout their lives. It’s the scales that give the wings their brilliant colors and patterns. If you’ve ever had a butterfly land on you, you probably noticed a powder-like substance where the butterfly stood. That powder is shed scales. Gentle handling won’t harm a butterfly, but if one loses too many scales, it could cause its wings to tear and affect its ability to fly. If a butterfly joins you for a little visit, enjoy it and definitely take a picture or video, but don’t try to pet it. Just let it do its thing until it’s ready to move on.

Majestic Mariposas at Desert Botanical Garden
"The Butterfly can only become beautiful if the caterpillar stays brave." ~ Unknown(Desert Botanical Garden)

Butterflies are picky about their plants

One of the things it might move on to do is lay eggs. Each species of butterfly has a host plant. That plant will provide food for the caterpillars, which don’t stray far from where they hatched.

“The monarchs’ host plant is the milkweed,” Leyshon explained. “That means the monarch will only lay eggs on milkweed plants. If that plant is not available, the caterpillar won’t have any food to eat.”

While butterflies do lay eggs in the Butterfly Pavilion and throughout the Garden, many residents of the Butterfly Pavilion come from butterfly farms (yes, there are such things) in other states. New butterflies arrive a couple of times a week, usually on Wednesdays and Thursdays. If a shipment arrives during your visit, you can help the Garden’s butterfly wranglers release the newcomers into the Pavilion.

“It’s really fun,” Leyshon said.

Majestic Mariposas is a guest favorite every spring.

“Children love it. Adults love it. All generations love it,” Leyshon said.

Butterflies at Desert Botanical Garden
(Desert Botanical Garden)

What’s not to love about butterflies?

Entrance to the Butterfly Pavilion is free with Garden Admission, and you can hang out there as long as you like.

“We have some benches in there, so you can sit down and relax,” Leyshon said. “We’ve got a pond in there with goldfish so that you can hear the running water. It’s a nice peaceful spot.”

While the Garden’s Butterfly Pavilion was created to help people see and enjoy these lively creatures, it’s also designed to teach visitors about the importance of butterflies and how to protect and preserve them. “Monarch butterfly populations have declined as much as 90 percent over the last two decades,” the Garden explains on its website. That’s why it developed what it calls the Great Milkweed Grow Out.

The biggest threat to butterflies, including monarchs, is loss of habitat. The Great Milkweed Grow Out is designed to help people make their home gardens inviting for butterflies. You can find nectar plants and pesticide-free milkweed grown at the Garden in the Garden Shop.

Great Milkweed Grow Out at Desert Botanical Garden
Great Milkweed Grow Out at Desert Botanical Garden

Milkweed comes in a variety of “flavors,” so to speak. With at least 29 species native to Arizona, you will find one to enhance your garden. The Garden says white stem milkweed, Arizona milkweed, antelope horns milkweed, giant sane milkweed, desert milkweed, and pine needle milkweed are some of the most popular native species. With some host plants and a few blooming flowers - butterflies love nectar - you can create a mini butterfly haven in your yard.

Desert Botanical Garden | 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix

Butterflies at Desert Botanical Garden
(Desert Botanical Garden)