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March comes in like Blue Morpho at Butterfly House

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 27, 2013 - This time of year, no one would blame you for leaving the frigid Midwest and hopping a plane for, say, Costa Rica. 

But the other way around?

For the sixth time, Blue Morpho butterflies, in their chrysalis, are placed into insulated packaging and express shipped from El Bosque Nuevo farm in Costa Rica to the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House in Chesterfield.

The Blue Morphos don’t need to eat or drink during this time and come out to emerge at the Butterfly House’s March Morpho Mania.

“We get them and unpack them and hang them up to emerge as butterflies,” says Chris Hartley, coordinator of education. “It’s a fantastic journey for these little guys.”

The Morphos aren’t exactly little, though, at least compared to other butterflies. According to Hartley, their wing span is about 5 inches. 

The Morphos are memorable for a number of reasons this time of year in St. Louis. First, lots of them, about 2,000, flutter through the warm air of the butterfly house. That’s in addition to the other 60 speciesregularly fluttering about, too.

Also, the brilliance of the Blue Morpho isn’t evident until they open their wings. When perched, Hartley says, you’ll see brown wings with several small eye spots, meant to both camouflage them and make them look like a scary predator. But when those wings open, the blues of their wings emerge. 

The Butterfly House has about a 95 percent success rate with getting the travelers from chrysalis to butterfly, Hartley says. Once they’re out, the Blue Morphos don’t have the burden of parasites or predators, just lots of ripe fruit to feed on.

“The ones that come to us have a charmed life,” he says.

March Morpho Mania officially kicks off March 1 and runs through the 31. For the month, the Butterfly House is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. Attendance has increased each year, and March is their busiest month, so expect crowds, especially on the weekends, Hartley says. But even with the lines, they move quickly, he adds. 

Also on March 1, the Butterfly House will have its grand opening for the completely remodeled Lopata learning lab, a classroom and event room, with space for activity, games and microscope viewing. For the month, the lab will be exploring how we’re connected to the rainforest, from the rubber we use to the foods we eat to ways the rainforest is important to the earth’s ecosystem. 

Throughout the winter, the Butterfly House remains a warm spot where people can stop and enjoy nature as the snow and cold persist outside. And after six years of flashes of brilliant blue, March Morpho Mania has become the sign of a new season, too.

“We definitely like to thing this is a welcome back to spring,” Hartley says.

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