All in a golden afternoon

The Butterfly House at Cox Arboretum showcases native moths and butterflies

By Valerie Beerbower

The Butterfly House at Cox Arboretum showcases hundreds of different types of butterflies and moths, including Monarch butterflies.

The Butterfly House at Cox Arboretum showcases hundreds of different types of butterflies and moths, including Monarch butterflies.

Did you know Montgomery County is home to one of Ohio’s first native butterfly houses? The Butterfly House at Cox Arboretum MetroPark, 6733 Springboro Pike, is open now through August 28. “Each species of butterfly or moth has slightly different timing of their life cycle, so you’ll see something new just about every time you visit during the season,” explained Cox Education Assistant Elizabeth Burke. “On one visit, you might see some butterflies in adult phases while others are still caterpillars or in the chrysalis stage, so next time you visit, those cocooned insects will be fluttering around the house.”

Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. The best time to visit the Butterfly House is on a warm, sunny day. “Butterflies like to have their body temps at 80 degrees to fly,” Burke said. “Butterflies can’t fly with wet wings, so rainy days are good for seeing butterflies roosting on flowers and trees, although the house does close during intense heat or severe weather.” Burke advised visitors not to breeze through the house. “Stop to look closely for caterpillars and chrysalis; they hide under leaves and blend in with stems.” Fortunately, despite their protective camouflage, caterpillars leave clues that make them easier to spot. “Holes in leaves are a good sign there may be caterpillars around,” she said.

The Butterfly House opened to the public in the summer of 1998. At that time, it was one of only four such facilities in the United States. Now there are many butterfly houses and exhibits throughout the U.S. and the world, but Cox Arboretum MetroPark’s Butterfly House remains one of the few that exhibits all native butterflies. “It’s important to value our native wildlife,” Burke said.

Visitors will find species such as painted lady, red admiral, monarch, giant swallowtail, black swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail, tiger swallowtail, luna moth, Cecropia moth, Polyphemus moth and pipevine swallowtail. The connection between plants and animals is particularly apparent in the Butterfly House. In order to sustain the variety of native species in the house, host plants are carefully chosen to place in and around the house. “Different butterflies and moths use different combinations of host plants,” Burke explained. “For example, monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants, and the caterpillars munch on the fibrous leaves and stems. Adult monarchs feast on nectar-bearing plants, so we have a combination of both in the house—the perfect butterfly habitat.”

Homeowners can create their own butterfly garden by selecting a good mix of host and nectar plants. “Avoid the temptation to go out and buy a plant that’s just called ‘butterfly bush,’” Burke warned. “The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has evidence that butterfly bush is showing signs of becoming an invasive plant. Using a mix of native plants will give your garden a colorful variety and the flowers provide nutrients besides just nectar. Native plants will keep your butterfly population healthier and reproducing better.”
Burke advises gardeners to select nectar-bearing plants like purple cone flower, Joe-Pye weed, black-eyed Susan, asters, hollyhock, lantana and zinnia, and host plants such as milkweed, parsley, dill, spicebush, or pipevine. “Have food around for the adults and the kids!” Burke said.

When choosing an appropriate location for a landscaped butterfly garden, Burke suggested selecting a sunny location that is protected from strong wind. Leave an open spot for puddles. This can be bare ground that is kept moist or a large plant saucer filled with sand and kept moist.
To schedule a group tour, call (937) 434-9005 during normal business hours.
To learn more about the Butterfly House  at Cox Arboretum, visit the MetrParks website at www.metroparks.org/butterflyhouse.

Reach freelance writer Valerie Beerbower at ValerieBeerbower@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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