a peek inside the fishbowl

07 Jan, 2018

A peek inside the live butterfly exhibition at the Museum of Nature

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Ottawa

For a few years, many moons ago, the kids and I were regular visitors at the annual live butterfly show at Carleton University here in Ottawa. I thought it was a great way to introduce kids to the magic, beauty, and joy of these amazing creatures. So when I heard about the new live butterfly exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature,* I knew it had to be something we had to check out as a family.

I was not disappointed!

Imagine a large circular greenhouse with a high ceiling, filled with all kinds of greenery and tropical plants. The heat and humidity are cranked up to create a comfortable habitat for the resident butterflies. As an added bonus, this warm cocoon of a room (ha! pun intended) makes a very pleasant respite from the horrific cold snap we’ve been surviving had in Ottawa recently.

Inside the Canadian Museum of Nature live butterfly exhibition

There are food and drink buffet stations set up for the butterflies around the perimeter of the room (think: dishes of oranges). These turned out to be the ideal places to see the butterflies in action. We all leaned in to take a good long look and, of course, take a million photos.

Live butterflies at the Museum of Nature

When the butterflies aren’t eating, they’re chilling out in a favourite spot. Some were high up out of reach, while others were right in front of you, just waiting to be admired:

Canadian Museum of Nature butterfly exhibition

As I walked around I realized that I was playing the ultimate game of iSpy. It was very cool.

Canadian Museum of Nature butterfly exhibition

The butterflies seem to have it pretty good here. They come from butterfly farms in Costa Rica and flit about from plant to plant, occasionally landing on a warm, mobile observation post (a.k.a. a human):

like a moth to a flame

Visitors are instructed to move slowly and watch where they step. Good advice, for sure. It was all very relaxed, which I appreciated. There’s a staffer on hand to chat with people and answer questions. There is a lot to learn about these amazing creatures. Scientists STILL don’t fully understand what happens during metamorphosis, but they do know that the caterpillars essentially digest themselves while they’re in their cocoons. Neat, eh?

While we were there, I watched two young school-age siblings who each had a small live butterfly on their shoulder. They were VERY proud and extremely gentle. It was so sweet. I wondered how they’d remember this later. What if this was the moment they decided to become biologists, climate change experts, or entomologists?

That being said, this exhibition isn’t just for kids. There were people of all ages here, and what appeared to be a few date nights, which I thought was all kinds of adorable. Every person in the room (except one!) was clearly having a lot of fun, watching the butterflies and looking for them among all the greenery. The teenager who wasn’t having a good time (she was not a member of our party) had a very obvious fear of flying insects. Which compels me to point out that if you are one of these people, perhaps this is not the best activity. Perhaps you should stick to the live insects that live happily in thick-walled acrylic terrariums. (I think THAT exhibit used to be called the Insectarium but it seems to have been renamed “Nature Live.” ?)

I should point out that tickets to see the live butterflies are timed entry, which limits the number of people walking through. It also means you have to book a time slot ahead of time. (Go to the Museum of Nature website for details about admission to the live butterfly exhibit.)

On the way out we checked ourselves for any hitchhiking butterfly specimens before eventually going back out into the cold winter evening, happy that we got to hold a bit of magic in our hands and see it up close, even for a moment.

* I was given tickets to see the butterflies by my friends at the Museum of Nature but was under no obligation to post anything about it here. All my views are my own! Please note that the museum is closed from January 8 to 12 (inclusive) for annual maintenance.

2 Responses to "A peek inside the live butterfly exhibition at the Museum of Nature"

1 | Ginger

January 7th, 2018 at 11:12 pm


OOHHHH! So awesome! It reminds me that we have a Butterfly House here in Dallas at the Texas Discovery Gardens. The boys went on a field-trip there when they were in Pre-K and enjoyed it. I think that is going to be a home school field trip this spring!

2 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive (re)Visiting Colony VR - Virtual Reality fun in Ottawa

January 11th, 2018 at 3:58 pm


[…] September. I didn’t write much about this (although you saw her in my recent post about the live butterfly exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature) but she was home over the holidays and we had LOTS of time together as a family, which was really […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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