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Butterflies flutter into new exhibit at National Aviary

| Sunday, June 5, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Abryanna Whittington, 8, of Seven Fields, holds butterflies at the National Aviary's Butterfly Garden exhibit on June 1, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Abryanna Whittington, 8, of Seven Fields, holds butterflies at the National Aviary's Butterfly Garden exhibit on June 1, 2016.
Ruth Dubois, 20, of Coraopolis holds her one-year-old nephew Jack Heisler of the North Hills as they look at a butterfly at the National Aviary's Butterfly Garden exhibit on June 1, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Ruth Dubois, 20, of Coraopolis holds her one-year-old nephew Jack Heisler of the North Hills as they look at a butterfly at the National Aviary's Butterfly Garden exhibit on June 1, 2016.
A painted lady butterfly sits on a flower at the National Aviary's Butterfly Garden exhibit.
Tribune-Review File
A painted lady butterfly sits on a flower at the National Aviary's Butterfly Garden exhibit.
The Monarch butterfly has decreased in population.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
The Monarch butterfly has decreased in population.
A painted lady butterfly sits on a flower at the National Aviary's Butterfly Garden exhibit on June 1, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A painted lady butterfly sits on a flower at the National Aviary's Butterfly Garden exhibit on June 1, 2016.
The National Aviary's Butterfly Garden exhibit on June 1, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
The National Aviary's Butterfly Garden exhibit on June 1, 2016.

The National Aviary's newest summer exhibit is taking flight with a different set of wings.

For the first time, the aviary will showcase butterflies with its newly unveiled Butterfly Garden.

“We were looking to do something different here for the summer,” says Kurt Hundgen, director of animal collection. “We're 99.9 percent bird people, so you introduce a mammal or a butterfly and it's always exciting. It's an opportunity for us to grow.”

The exhibit, which opened May 28, is set apart from others like it by the interaction that visitors can have with its 300 to 500 butterflies, including up to 13 species, all of which can be found in Pennsylvania, Hundgen says.

Although an increasing number of butterfly exhibits have been fluttering into zoos and gardens nationally, “They're just an exhibit, not an encounter,” Hundgen says. “We're trying to create more of an encounter.”

For instance, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden in Oakland has long had an annual Butterfly Forest, where visitors can observe the colorful creatures but not feed them.

Visitors to the aviary are able to hand-feed butterflies with a nectar mixture composed of apples, soy sauce, sugar, bee pollen and water pureed into the consistency of applesauce. This interaction, Hundgen says, allows visitors to further appreciate and feel more connected to their habitat.

“I'm quite sure if you ask her, she's never done that before,” Hundgen says while pointing at a smiling child feeding a butterfly from her finger. “What you see right there is really what we're looking to accomplish.”

The garden, located in the aviary's outdoor Rose Garden, further connects visitors to nature by educating them about the insects — their life cycle, role in the environment and connections to birds, Hundgen says.

“(Butterflies) are remarkable, and so many of us don't know,” says Hundgen, who adds that he learned a lot about the insects in his research for the exhibit. For example, Hundgen says, monarch butterflies, which travel 30 miles per hour on average, take four generations to complete an annual northern migration.

The most frequent comments received from adult visitors, says Nikki Hartman, senior aviculturist, have been that they do not see as many butterflies in the wild today as when they were younger, a decline that Hartman says partly stems from the use of pesticides.

To make the most of these diminishing populations, the exhibit offers examples of tools that visitors can use to attract butterflies to their own patios and backyards.

Visitors also can watch the insects undergo the final stages of their maturation from caterpillar to butterfly inside a chrysalis box.

Educational classes will be held throughout the summer in conjunction with the exhibit, which runs through mid-September.

Matthew Zabierek is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7893 or mzabierek@tribweb.com.

Greensburg butterfly garden

Two days of activities will herald the season opening of the Lefevre Butterfly Garden behind the Greensburg Garden Center, 951 Old Salem Road.

Activities on June 10 are designed to engage children, beginning with story time at 10:30 a.m. and butterfly cookie decorating at 11 a.m.

Visitors are invited to bring a picnic basket and favorite teddy bear for a picnic at noon. Drinks will be provided.

The day's activities will conclude with a 2 p.m. walk through the garden, featuring a talk on planting to attract butterflies and other pollinators.

On June 11, there will be two seatings for a Butterfly and Fairy Tea Party at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. June 11, and a “Tales of a Butterfly Tickler” talk at 10 a.m.

The grounds will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days, with arts and crafts activities and a plant sale available.

The butterfly garden was designed by Linda Haas of Greensburg, a former landscape designer, speaker, master gardener and volunteer at the Lurie Garden in Chicago's Millennium Park.

“The first phase of the garden was planted last summer during the hottest part of July. This year the garden looks as though it has been there for years,” Haas says. “The next phase of the garden was planted three weeks ago in the same soil with a prairie seed mix.

“On Sept. 4 of last year, we found our first batch of Monarch butterfly larvae in the butterfly garden. We were able to raise two to adulthood and photograph the process firsthand.”

The cost for the tea is $8 and guests are invited to wear wings. Reservations are required at 724-837-0245.

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