Monday, November 30, 2009

The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

Butterfly Conservatory front

For Thanksgiving weekend our family went on a trip to Key West. The highlight of our trip was visiting The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory .

IMG_3021 Glass Butterfly Conservatory

This beautiful Victorian style structure includes a gift shop, gallery, learning center, and a 5,000 sq. ft. glass enclosed conservatory. The conservatory is full of 50-60 different exotic butterfly species from butterfly farms from around the world. The conservatory has a computer controlled weather system that provides a tropical climate for the many butterflies (this was my dad’s favorite part).

Sam Trophia owner

Sam Trophia (above) and George Fernandez are both owners of The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. Sam Trophia gave me a tour of the conservatory and shared how it is operated. It was a pleasure to hear about his own journey with butterflies.

Learning Center

Butterflies of the World

To begin our tour we entered the Learning Center. Inside was a map showing different butterflies of the world and where they are located. There was a short film showing the life cycle of butterflies and interesting facts. My favorite exhibit inside the Learning center was three enclosed glass containers where you can observe caterpillars feeding on their host plants.

Morpho sign  Morpho caterpillar

During our tour, Sam Trophia let me take a closer look inside the Blue Morpho caterpillars enclosure. I finally got to see a Blue Morpho caterpillar! It was quite funny looking and not beautiful like the adult butterfly it will become. It had a strange hair style and bright colors along its back. Touching a Blue Morpho caterpillar’s hair is not a good idea because they cause skin irritation. I better bring gloves when I go the Costa Rica!

Butterfly Conservatory


(Picture taken from the second floor during our ‘behind the scenes” tour.)

My excitement grew as we entered the butterfly pavilion. Every detail was perfect. The tropical flowers were bursting with blooms.  Large Blue Morphos and tropical butterflies swirled around us giving us a sense of peace and tranquility.

Morphos on dad Morpho on my shoulder

Dad and I discovered how sociable Blue Morpho butterflies are. We were told that if a butterfly lands on us we are blessed. I thought I was special to have one land on my shoulder, but soon discovered my dad had two land him! One on his head and the other on his leg. They blend in very well with their wings closed so follow the pointing arrows to find them. The butterfly on my hat is paper, but the one on my shoulder is real. The paper butterfly is a gift to all visitors to the conservatory.

feeding platter

The multiple fruit platters around the conservatory attract many different butterfly species. Butterflies are treated like royalty at this conservatory! Note the colorful flowers on the elaborate plate.

Beautiful Butterflies

It took some thought to pick out my favorite butterfly pictures. I purchased a Butterfly Identification Guide at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory gift shop to help identify the different tropical butterflies I saw.

Blue Clipper Rice paper butterfly

1. Blue Clipper                            2. Rice paper

Tailed Jay purple butterfly

3. Tailed Jay                              4. Doris Longwing

Blue Morpho Butterfly 1

4. Blue Morpho                        5. Crimson-patched Longwing


Inside the conservatory were beautiful waterfalls and a brook with Koi fish swimming around. Mr. Trophia pointed out baby fish living with their parents. The water adds moisture to the air which helps to provide the humidity tropical butterflies need.

quail and baby fat bird

Inside the conservatory are a variety of about 15 different small birds that eat fruit and seeds, but don’t harm the butterflies. Instead of using chemicals that kill butterflies, they use birds to control mosquitoes and aphids. (The first picture is a quail and her new baby eating.)

Butterfly Laboratory


Visitors are unable to go inside the laboratory, but Mr. Trophia, who is keeper of the laboratory keys went inside and snapped a photo for me. Now you can get a glimpse inside the laboratory where the butterfly chrysalises are kept.

 Chrysalises 1

A closer look from my outside view shows the emerging butterflies. These are large Owl butterflies that fly at dusk in the rain forests of Costa Rica. On January 12, my mom and I leave for Costa Rica and will stay in the jungle where the Owl butterfly lives.

The owners of the conservatory are concerned about butterfly conservation. The butterflies (and birds) flying in the conservatory are not captured from the wild. They are bred in captivity in different areas of the world. Regulated Butterfly farming provides income for people living in rain forests. Instead of destroying trees for agriculture, people can live off of the land. The extra butterflies that are not sold are released into the wild further helping the butterfly populations!

“Behind the Scenes Exclusive Tour for Elizabeth’s Secret Garden”.


The butterflies live a wonderful life in the conservatory, but will eventually die. The owner, Sam Trophia, recycles the specimens by creating artwork with them and selling them in the art gallery. He creates ornaments and shadow boxes with the deceased butterflies. My favorite piece was a mirror surrounded by blue butterflies. You can purchase them online and ship them almost anywhere. They are a perfect gift for family and friends this Christmas season.

Click on this link to see butterflies in display cases that are available for purchase. 

To see the other gift shop items visit IMG_3068

Butterflies are carefully preserved and sorted in the correct boxes. They will later be turned into beautiful art arrangements.


The Atlas Moth is the largest moth in the world. It was proudly displayed at the top of bulletin board along with the Owl butterfly and other species.

I strongly recommend that everyone visit The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. I want to thank Sam Trophia for making our visit very enjoyable. My love for butterflies has increased, but most importantly my love for the God who “painted every color on their wings” has grown. (The phrase in parenthesis is quoted from Abigail Breslin in the movie “The Ultimate Gift”.)

When you visit, tell them “Elizabeth’s Secret Garden” sent you!

Below is a video I put together of our trip to Key West.

Also check out my book on butterflies!

It includes all about how to raise butterflies, their life cycles, and butterfly gardens/conservatories I have visited. The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is included in my book. Happy Butterfly Gardening!

Purchase book here to support my work: 

book cover

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Defects of White Peacock Butterflies

colored chrysalis for blog

A White Peacock chrysalis becomes transparent before the butterfly emerges. The paper thin chrysalis allows you to see the intricate patterns on the wings. The abdomen, wings, eyes, and antennas are all visible. This healthy butterfly will soon push its way out and hang while its wings dry.

dead butterfly in chrysalis close up

Not all butterflies will have the strength to push their way out of the chrysalis covering. This chrysalis cracked open, but the butterfly never came out. I waited two days to be sure it was dead.


After removing the chrysalis covering, the fully developed butterfly was revealed.


Some butterflies make it out of the chrysalis, but then fall before their wings are completely dry. This can cause major deformities of the wings. If the butterfly’s wings are bent too much the butterfly will be unable to fly. Injured butterflies become a meal for lizards, birds, spiders, and other creatures.


This butterfly had an enlarged abdomen causing it to get stuck in the chrysalis. With my help it finally got out, but it was too late. This butterfly as a result has majorly deformed wings. To date, I have lost twelve butterflies from the 150 caterpillars I raised, because of defects in their development or falling after they emerged.

A Healthy Emergence of White Peacocks

emerging butterfly for blog

As a butterfly begins to exit from the chrysalis, a crack can be heard. The butterfly crawls out of the chrysalis and grips on to something nearby. Its wings are crumbled at first, but quickly lengthen by pumping fluid from it’s abdomen to it’s wings.


When the White Peacocks are ready for release, they begin to fly all about. I have released 97 healthy White Peacocks butterflies to date. I started this journey by breeding 5 White Peacocks in my butterfly pavilion. From the eggs the females laid, I was able to raise approximately 150 caterpillars. Now I am releasing those caterpillars that have turned into butterflies. The population of White Peacocks in our pesticide-free yard has greatly increased!

Raising and releasing butterflies will keep butterflies from going extinct as we destroy their habitats and build houses. You can help butterflies by planting host plants in your yards. Each butterfly species has a certain host plant it lays eggs on. Below are some plants that are eaten by butterfly caterpillars.

Host Plants

Monarch butterfly - Milkweed

White Peacock - Water Hyssop and fog fruit

Cloudless Sulphur - Cassia tree

Gulf Fritillary - Passion vine (purple flowers) . I use Passionvine, Inspiration.


48 days until my Costa Rica tour.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Visit to BioWorks Butterfly Garden at MOSI in Tampa, FL


The BioWorks Butterfly Garden at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa contains flowers and host plants that attract native butterflies of Florida. Kristen Gilpin the keeper of the butterfly pavilion invited me on a tour of the caterpillar nursery and gardens. She rears the caterpillars of butterflies and moths that visit the gardens. Raising caterpillars and releasing healthy butterflies is critical to the survival of butterfly species.

MOSI nursery

To begin the tour Kristen showed me the caterpillar nursery and pupa of moths and butterflies she raised.


This moth caterpillar is a special guest in the caterpillar nursery. It is a Frangipani Hawk moth and was given to the Mosi Butterfly Garden by a guest. This giant caterpillar is a tropical species, but is occasionally found in southern Florida.

Cloudless Sulphur for blog

Each different caterpillar species are raised in reptile containers. Cuttings from the caterpillars host plants is placed in yogurt containers with water. A small ‘X’ is cut in the yogurt lid so the stem can easily slid through, but the caterpillars can not fall into the water easily. The caterpillar above is a Cloudless Sulphur feeding on Cassia flowers. When Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars eat flowers they turn yellow. When eating leaves they are green.

Giant Swallowtail for blog

This Giant Swallowtail caterpillar wasn’t in the mood for getting its picture taken. When disturbed Swallowtail caterpillars reveal an osterium that is hid behind the head. Different species of Swallowtails have different color osteriums. The Giant Swallowtail has a red osterium that releases a smelly odor. I experienced it personally!

Tour of the Butterfly Garden


Next Kristen took me through the butterfly garden. Below are pictures of just a few of the many host plants for butterflies and nectar plants I saw.

IMG_2730 IMG_2732 

IMG_2796 Sensitive Plant

The Back Woods at Mosi


Next began our adventure through the 40 acre woods, located behind MOSI, in search for Zebra Longwing butterflies. Kristen brought along her butterfly net to capture butterflies. She has caught as many as 30 butterflies at one time in her net. With ten years of experience at catching butterflies she is an expert.

Classroom at MOSI Butterfly Pavilion



MOSI has an educational classroom in the butterfly pavilion to educate children about the life cycle of butterflies. For more information visit or to follow Kristen’s blog at MOSI visit .

I want to personally thank Kristen for sharing her morning with “Elizabeth’s Secret Garden”.

My Release of 15 White Peacock Butterflies

After arriving home from MOSI, I was thrilled to find 15 of my White Peacocks ready for release. It was the perfect end to my butterfly day!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Inside My White Peacock Nursery


I currently have 100 White Peacock chrysalises, 50 caterpillars, and one White Peacock butterfly that emerged. I thought I had only 140 caterpillars, but after a recount I discovered more. In the containers you can see how much food it takes to feed all those caterpillars. I fed them fogfruit, water hyssop (bacopa), and leaves of a native wild petunia plant.


Before the chrysalis stage, the White Peacock caterpillar must find a stationary spot to hang. This could be a branch, leaf, or they may even pupate on the ground. As this final molting approaches you will notice that the caterpillars head has a greenish hue. Suddenly the hanging caterpillar begins to wiggle and the old skin begins to be shed away. Underneath is the chrysalis covering where the White Peacock butterfly will develop.

Have you ever wondered what happens once the caterpillar has made a chrysalis? After research, I discovered that inside the chrysalis enzymes are released that break down the caterpillars tissues. The caterpillar turns into a butterfly as these tissues are rebuilt. This metamorphosis usually takes 8 to 14 days depending on the outside temperature and species of butterfly.

chrysalis size for book

White Peacocks are small butterflies. Look at it compared to the larger chrysalis of the Monarch.


I discovered that White Peacock chrysalises have black dots along the front. Some spots are more bold than on other chrysalises. It seems that the spots appear after the chrysalis hardens.


I noticed that the chrysalis were different sizes. Some chrysalises were larger where the abdomen of the butterfly develops. Other chrysalises were small and slender. My theory is that different butterfly genders have different sizes of the chrysalises.


Not all my caterpillars survived. This chrysalis escaped and was found hanging on the lanai curtains. If your chrysalis turns completely black with no signs of emerging it either has been attacked by bacteria or a parasite entered the chrysalis. I had to dispose of the chrysalis so it would not infect my other caterpillars and chrysalises.

I lost 2 chrysalises because a mischievous  caterpillar decided to crawl on the chrysalises before they were dry. After that tragedy, I gently moved my other caterpillars that were hanging in a ‘J’ position to a separate chrysalis container. Inside they made chrysalises without interruptions. To move hanging caterpillars or chrysalises put a small amount of water on your fingers and rub it gently against the silk on the cremaster. The silk can easily be unattached from a twig or container this way.

The count down to my Costa Rica tour is 59 days.