Milwaukee's Tropical Butterflies

better butterfly diversions
The new Puelicher Butterfly Wing of the Milwaukee Public Museum has become the place to see some fancy flights this summer.

The highlight is a glass-enclosed tropical garden which serves as a showcase for a changing cast of 20 or more exotic species of butterfly from around the world. Visitors are free to wander through the garden and get as up close and personal as they can.

The gallery showcases only a fraction of the wealth of the museum's world-class collection of lepidoptera (the scientific category for moths and butterflies), which consists of more than 250,000 specimens. Begun more than a century ago, the collection serves as a specimen repository for various studies involving lepidoptera.

The Amazing Monarchs!
The monarch butterfly makes a yearly migration from wintering grounds in Mexico to as far north as Canada and back. The 4,000-mile trip is by far the longest insect migration in nature. An outline of this journey is available at the University Of Minnesota's Monarch Lab site.
One of nature's best indicators of the health of an environment, butterflies teach us a great deal about habitats and change. Museum scientists are currently studying the incredible diversity of species in the Costa Rican rainforest. One local experiment has scientists leading a program to reintroduce the endangered species called the swamp metalmark to rare wetland fens in Wisconsin.

The exhibit displays the full cycle of butterfly life, from crawling caterpillar to gliding burst of vibrant color. At the Transformation Center, the very patient observer can wait to watch new butterflies emerge from their cocoons.

A child at an interactive station.
A learning center with interactive stations and examples of science at work complements the visual stimulation. And children are invited to do some transforming of themselves with some of the colorful costumes at a nearby gallery.

With its unique design and inviting garden, the opening of the Puelicher Butterfly Wing unqustionably marks a great leap forward for lepidoptera, and a learning opportunity for all the rest of us.