Starting from beside the Canadian Falls of Niagara Falls, drive almost nine kilometres (5.6 miles) north on the Niagara Parkway, which runs parallel to the Niagara River gorge on the Canadian side. On your left will be the driveway into the parking lot for the Niagara Falls Butterfly Conservatory.
The Conservatory is located in the midst of the Niagara Falls Botanical Gardens. The Gardens offers beautiful trees, bushes, flowers and lawns. Yada, yada, yada.
Sorry about that “yada, yada, yada” thing. I’m not opposed to human-planted, manicured natural beauty, but you can get that in a lot of places. Besides, it was late October when I visited and most of the flowers had seen better days. And the leaves were starting to come off the trees, but the trees weren’t yet covered with stunning, bold colours.
Consequently, this blog post is about the Butterfly Conservatory, not about the surrounding Botanical Gardens.
It won’t come as a surprise to learn that you’ll find butterflies inside the Niagara Falls Butterfly Conservatory. In fact, you’ll find lots of them—both lots of species and lots of individual butterflies.
The Butterfly Conservatory’s Web site says that it has more than 2,000 butterflies representing 45 species. I have no trouble believing that it has at least that many. The place was lousy with butterflies.
I should also point out that it’s called a “conservatory,” not a “museum.” These aren’t dead butterflies pinned to display boards. They are live butterflies flittering around the place and, at least in my case, occasionally landing on your head; literally on your head.
It’s not just local species. The Niagara Falls Butterfly Conservatory is entirely indoors. Despite being in Canada, you’ll find tropical vegetation and a perpetually warm climate inside, even in the winter. Thus, the Conservatory is able to house butterflies from various parts of the world.
You might think it sounds silly to say that the Butterfly Conservatory is entirely indoors. Wouldn’t the butterflies fly free if it weren’t, you might be asking yourself? Actually, no. In year-round warm climates the walls and ceilings of a butterfly conservatory can be made of mesh. But this is not a year-round warm climate. This is Canada.
In addition to butterflies and vegetation, there’s also an artificial babbling brook with a small waterfall in the Butterfly Conservatory. Before you ask, no, the waterfall does not look like any of the falls of the nearby Niagara Falls.
A sign posted by a tiny pond in the course of the brook warned people to not throw coins into the water. (How did that become a good luck charm? As far as I can see, all that throwing away a coin does is to make you a little poorer.) The sign said that the coins are toxic to the fish and turtles.
Um, OK. But despite watching for a while, I didn’t spot any fish in the brook. I did see a turtle resting on a rock. At least, I thought it was resting on a rock. It didn’t move a muscle the whole time I watched it. There wasn’t even any minute movement that would suggest respiration. As far as I could tell, it might have been dead or fake.
Butterfly feeders were positioned at various points in the Conservatory. These consisted of dishes sitting on posts. The dishes were covered with sections of oranges. And the orange sections were, without fail, covered with feeding butterflies.
I took a few pictures of the butterflies, but I didn’t find out all of the names of the butterfly species in the pictures I took, so I’ve left them mostly unlabelled here. There was one exception: The owl butterfly.
The owl butterfly is quite distinctive. There is what looks like a giant eye on the topside of each of its wings. I imagine it gets its name because some people think the eye looks like an owl’s eye.
I don’t see that. I thought the owl butterflies looked like fish. That might be because I only spotted them resting with their wings folded, so I saw only one eye at a time.
You be the judge. The picture I posted was of two owl butterflies, not one, sitting one above the other.
A couple of years ago I read a hypothesis as to why some species evolve with markings such as the eye on the owl butterfly. Here’s the thinking: Butterflies are prey for some other species. Owls are predators of some of the species that feast on butterflies. If a butterfly looks from a distance like a predator of a species that preys on butterflies, members of that other species might stay away.
If a butterfly is born with a mutation that makes it frightening to predators of butterflies, that butterfly is more likely to survive and pass its mutation on to offspring, who are, in turn, more likely to survive and pass what is no longer a mutation, but an inherited gene, onto their offspring.
I have no idea whether that’s how the owl butterfly got its “owl eyes,” but it sounds plausible to me.
The species that I thought was most stunning was called blue morpho. The underside of its wings was quite dull, with seven “eyes,” but the topside was a brilliant, almost fluorescent, turquoise blue.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of a blue morpho. My camera is my iPhone 4s. It’s not very good at taking action photos. They come out blurry. Either that or my pictures come out blurry because I’m not a good photographer. I’m willing to blame my phone, but the blame probably rests more with the photographer.
Despite stalking them for quite a while, all of the blue morpho butterflies I spotted were either flittering around and, therefore, not photographable as anything but a blur by me with my iPhone or they were resting with their wings folded so I saw only the uninteresting underside of their wings.
If you’re interested in seeing a blue morpho you can search for it on Google. You’ll find a lot of pictures there. Or, if you are lazy, you can follow this link to the blue morpho butterfly page on the Audobon Nature Institute site.