It’s not dubbed “The Swamp” without reason. Gainesville isn’t exactly on the map for it’s exotic landscapes or bountiful, tropical foliage. However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
If you’re a student, coming to the ‘Ville is a bit like taking a four to five year long camping trip in the middle-of-nowhere Florida. If you’re a local, then the barren horizons of Alachua County have likely never seemed out of the ordinary.
Tucked away in the depths of the University of Florida campus is a lush butterfly garden filled with enough scenery to ease any stir-crazy resident and entrance any nature lover.
On any normal day, you can stroll up to the Florida Museum of Natural History and get up close and personal with foreign critters imported straight from countries like the Philippines and South Africa.
However, throughout the month of February at 2 p.m., you can bear witness to the new butterflies on the block taking flight and learn about these unfamiliar creatures in the process.
Walking into the butterfly garden feels like you’ve discovered a hidden treasure in Gainesville. It’s hard to believe such a tropical haven exists amongst the collegiate, swampy stomping grounds of the University. While Gainesville has its own natural wonders with which to lay claim, a change in scenery can be just what the doctor ordered.
For the nature lover, it’s a chance to escape the day-to-day routine and experience and appreciate the garden. For the ever-curious, it’s an opportunity to learn about and see rare species without the additional travel time.
At 2 p.m., it was time for the release of a few very special species of butterflies. Observers gathered around a staff member holding a box encasing the precious cargo.
The knowledgeable staff members briefed us on the three breeds they were releasing. The first was a toxic Golden Bird Wing shipped in from the Philippines. This branch of butterfly is known for its bright yellow wings to symbolize it’s toxicity, and yes, it’s flying around free in the butterfly garden, completely free to get as close as it wishes.
But don’t worry all you paranoid soccer moms– it’s only toxic if consumed. So keep an eye on your hungry kiddos and your day trip to the butterfly garden should be both safe and breathtakingly beautiful.
I got pretty close to this one and learned from a staff member that if the Golden Bird Wing feels endangered, it flaps its wings fast to keep it’s muscles ready in the event it needs to take flight quickly. In any other world, I am the definition of unintimidating, but apparently to this little guy, I was Godzilla.
The following two species were the Magnificent Swallow Tail and White Morpho. I wasn’t fortunate enough to get a one-on-one interview with either, but learned about the Magnificent Swallow Tail’s toxicity and the White Morpho’s wings that camouflage itself into rays of light.
Needless to say, my day making new butterfly friends was a breath of fresh air and a fascinating experience.
The Florida Museum of Natural History takes care of these creatures from pupa to parting, all while informing the public about their habits and protective measures. Within those four walls, you can learn and experience about the tropical species of a foreign land, right within the borders of Alachua County Florida.
Florida Museum of Natural History butterfly releases take place every weekday at 2 p.m. and occasionally on weekends at 3 p.m. through February 28.