2013-09-05 / Around Town

Winged Beauties Bring Luck

By Shawna E.M. Snyder

ABOVE: Sofie and Corinne Snyder, with Katya Marshall, center, at the Butterfly Zoo. BELOW: A butterfly lands on Adrian Marshall. (Photos by livingwaterimages.com) ABOVE: Sofie and Corinne Snyder, with Katya Marshall, center, at the Butterfly Zoo. BELOW: A butterfly lands on Adrian Marshall. (Photos by livingwaterimages.com) There's something magical about a butterfly fluttering by as you stroll through a garden. When the butterfly settles on a flower, it's as though life stands still for a moment and the chaos of daily life slips into the shadows. The Butterfly Zoo in Tiverton is in its 21st season and continues to bring Rhode Islanders a glimpse into a magical world. Mark Schenck, owner of the zoo, and his tour guides educate people about the life cycle of butterflies and share information about the various species that live at the zoo. The zoo showcases butterflies from many countries, including China, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, and North America. Be mindful that the Butterfly Zoo is a no-frills educational experience. There is no refreshment stand, gift shop, or bathroom on site, but the zoo is an enchanting experience. For butterfly enthusiasts, children, and nature photographers, it is well worth the simple accommodations.

With my own faeries fluttering behind me, the children and I entered the modest enclosure to find ourselves immersed amid hundreds of exotic butterflies and a spectacular aerial ballet. We were entranced as some butterflies settled on blossoms and gracefully opened and closed their wings. Then, just as quietly as they appeared, the fragile winged creatures would move on to other nectar rich flowers to feed.

What is most appealing about the zoo is that the butterflies have become socialized to people and therefore don't see us as threats. This allows for a more engaging experience. However, due to the fragility of these winged beauties, touching or chasing the butterflies is not allowed. That being said, if a butterfly lands on you, it is believed that you will have good luck for the rest of the day. When we visited the zoo, my six-year-old was a butterfly magnet. She had one land on her big toe and another on her hip, which was very exciting for her. For the rest of the day she was the luckiest girl! My four-year-old was a bit more cautious, but just as thrilled to be so close to the butterflies. Other families were having a wonderful time, too, finding clusters of delicate butterflies resting on the leaves of plants and examining the complexity of color and markings on different species.

Shawna E.M. Snyder of Newport, is a mother of two young girls and a Doctor of Acupuncture. Shawna E.M. Snyder of Newport, is a mother of two young girls and a Doctor of Acupuncture. Olesya Marshall and her kids, Adrian and Katya, were out exploring this butterfly world also. Marshall stated, "The kids were absolutely thrilled by a sense of wonder when the butterflies flew around and landed on them. That was their favorite moment. I loved watching them so happy and curious, discovering new things. It was very educational."

The tour guides offered insight on special characteristics of butterflies. We were shown that some of the butterflies had an entirely different set of markings on the front compared to the back of their wings. Nature did this for protection, to fool predators into thinking that a butterfly is something far scarier than the fragile creature that it actually is. Also, during the caterpillar stage, they may have spikes or an undesirable flavor to deter predators from viewing them as appetizing treats. As we explored and identified the stages of the butterfly's life cycle, we were reminded of one of our favorite books by Eric Carle, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." So far, 28,000 different species of butterflies have been found all over the world, with over 700 species discovered in North America. Gardeners have been known to dedicate parts of their garden to attracting butterflies with plantings such as purple coneflower, phlox, aster, and salvia.

In keeping with the regulations of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, Schenck and his guides are careful to keep the butterflies enclosed to protect them and our habitat. Non-native species can wreak havoc on the environment, as we have seen with the Japanese beetle, gypsy moth, Asian longhorned beetle, and the emerald ash borer. This means that the guides assist visitors in entering and exiting the zoo.

Sunny days are the best time to observe the butterflies, when they are most active. When it is cloudy, the butterflies often rest on leaves or flowers, making it a good time for photography. They take cover and hide on rainy days, and the zoo is therefore closed during stormy weather.

A three-week monarch celebration begins in September, when the zoo will feature six species from around the world and will allow guests to tag North American monarchs to track their migration.

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