Discover more than 750 species that delicately flutter through the air, coast to coast, across the country.

By Kier Holmes
July 10, 2020
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Sylvain Cordier / Getty Images

Butterflies are undoubtedly graceful, unique, ethereal, and fascinating—did you know that it's called "lighting" when a butterfly lands on you? Roughly 20,000 species of butterflies exist worldwide, but according to Nick Haddad from the Kellogg Biological Station at Michigan State University, "There is a two percent decline in butterflies per year. This may not seem like much, but after two decades that means a decline in butterflies of 33 percent." Plus, there are 26 endangered butterflies as determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service due most likely to habitat loss and pesticide use.

This alarming situation makes it a challenge to easily find theses uniquely colored and patterned creatures fluttering about. One easy way is to visit a manmade butterfly sanctuary or exhibit, essentially created habitats filled with diverse plant life and are temperature controlled to allow butterflies to thrive year round. Another way is to mark your calendar for butterfly-focused events and seasonal exhibits. Here, some top family-friendly destinations for spotting butterflies.

Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary

Monarchs are perhaps the most recognized butterfly in North America, but unfortunately they are struggling. Since the mid 1990s, they have declined 90 percent from their 20-year average. But don't worry, you can still see these at-risk lovelies. Mark your calendar because during the monarchs annual migration between October and February, an average of 25,000 travel through the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, California, where they cluster together on pines, cypress, and eucalyptus trees within the sanctuary.

Butterfly Pavilion

Located in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., visitors of the Butterfly Pavilion can stroll among 300 butterflies and exotic plants in a climate controlled tropical oasis. The pavilion showcases a kaleidoscope of butterflies from the United States, Mexico, India, China, Africa, Southeast Asia, as well as Central and South America.

Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center at Callaway Garden

Visit the Callaway Resort and Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia, where the center hosts 1,000 or more freely fluttering butterflies in one of North America's largest tropical butterfly glass-enclosed conservatories.

Tropical Butterfly House

Watch stunning butterflies fly, sun themselves, and nosh on tropical flowers in this butterfly house located at Seattle's Pacific Science Center in Washington state. Gaze through the viewing window and watch young butterflies miraculously emerge from chrysalises. New butterflies are released into the exhibit each morning.

National Butterfly Center

More than 200 species of wild and free-flying butterflies can be found on this 100 acre nature preserve in the city of Mission, Texas, where an abundance of host and nectar plants live so butterflies can feed and reproduce. Started by the North American Butterfly Association, the center's mission is to teach the importance of biodiversity, the wonder of butterflies and their role in maintaining healthy ecosystems and sustainable food resources. The peak of butterfly season happens in the fall during their migration, and this coincides with the annual Texas Butterfly Festival.

Magic Wings Butterfly House

Visit the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina, where you can walk through one of the largest butterfly houses on the east coast. Towering 35 high windows encase a lush, rainforest landscape and are home to 50 different species of butterflies. Join them for daily butterfly releases, meet their lepidopterist (a scientist who studies butterflies) and use their Butterfly Identification Guides to see what butterflies can be discovered in the Magic Wings House.

Your Own Garden

To help butterfly populations closer to you at home, become a citizen scientist and monitor their numbers. Also consider creating your own butterfly garden by planting flowers and herbs that lure these flying friends, including milkweed, parley, fennel, passion flower, verbena, lantana, and zinnias. To add to your garden, bury a ceramic or plastic basin in the ground filled with mud or wet sand to give butterflies a moist place to land, drink, and soak in the sun.

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