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Butterflies Are Aflutter at the Museum of Natural History

By Emily Frost | October 4, 2012 8:03am

UPPER WEST SIDE — Hundreds of butterflies flutter through balmy air, flitting between tropical plants and bright pink flowers and pausing to feed on juicy navel oranges.

It's a scene reminiscent of Costa Rica, but it's been recreated on the Upper West Side.

The American Museum of Natural History's popular Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter exhibit is returning for its 15th year.

“It’s warm and humid in here,” said Hazel Davies, associate director of living exhibits at the museum, as she guided children to different corners of the 1,200-foot greenhouse-like space.

“This is like a mini tropical vacation.”

The exhibit opens Oct. 6, but let four and five-year-olds from the Goddard Riverside Head Start program get a sneak peak. 

From watching a big Owl butterfly land on a succulent orange, to spying hidden butterflies and ladybugs amidst the plantings, to using a magnifying glass to examine markings in more detail, the children were as flighty as the insects.

The exhibit is kid-friendly with informative placards and a chance to see the insects up close as they move around the space, passing right in front of visitors.

Part of the fun is that, in Davies’ words, “[the butterflies] land on people all the time.”

A butterfly with iridescent wings and one with a strong likeness to a leaf are part of the exhibit, as are butterflies from Florida, Costa Rica, Kenya, Thailand, Malaysia, Ecuador and Australia.

The insects' lifespan is only two to three weeks. Visitors can watch a display case where new butterflies are continually hatching.

The 500 butterflies will be on display through May, so visitors can wait for the coldest day in winter to take their “vacation.”