if you were to tell me that there was a place in massachusetts where in the dead of winter you can go and see live butterflies, i would call you crazy. but there is such a place and i went there today. for a guy who loves insects and photography, this was a dream come true. i could've spent the whole day there without getting bored. i was so happy i could cry.
my sister approached me about the trip earlier in the week. she and her friend carmine were going to the butterfly conservatory this weekend and asked if i'd be interested (and if i knew anybody else who would be too). now normally the chance of my sister and i hanging out would be next to zero: peace in the middle east and the reunification of the two koreas would sooner happen that the yang siblings spending a day bonding. but the opportunity to see butterflies was too great to turn down so i agreed to go.
where is this magical place you speak of? it's out in western massachusetts, a place that just so happens to be called magic wings out in deerfield. my sister came to pick me up at 10am before we got her friend and drove the 2 hours trip to the conservatory. today was a cold day with temperature below freezing, but when we finally arrived, i left my jacket in the car, figuring the place would be heated somehow. from the outside it looked like several large greenhouses in a row (8000 square feet). through the foggy windows i could see butterflies fluttering inside. we bought our tickets ($8/adult, another $1 for a scorecard with color photos showing you the butterflies you can find) and got some lunch from the adjoining cafeteria (i had a chicken caeser wrap, but they sold novelty food like peanut butter & jelly sandwiches shaped like butterflies) before heading inside the actual conservatory.
with a name like magic wings, i was keeping my expectations low. i've been tricked before (salem witch trail museum, anyone?) and i wasn't going to psyche myself up only to come face-to-face with disappointment, although from what i've seen thus far, it looked promising. before you actually saw the butterflies you first had to go into an education room, where displays informed you about the differences between a moth and a butterfly, the parts of a butterfly, and how they survive. they had a display where live morpho caterpillars were feeding, and another display featuring twig insects from around the world. lengthwise twig insects must be the longest bugs in the world (i swear, there was one a foot long), and it was kind of gross watching them breathe, their abdomens slowly pulsating like balloons.
we then went into a short hallway with mirrored walls and warm air blowing towards the conservatory. all these were countermeasures to guard against any butterflies from escaping or hitchhiking on an unsuspecting visitor (as if they'd survive in the harsh new england winter!). once we stepped through the hallway, beyond the swinging doors, we immediately felt like being in a humid jungle. and almost like on cue, butterflies started fluttering about everywhere, so many in fact that i was afraid i'd accidently step on them.
i've been to a butterfly farm in costa rica but there wasn't the level of activity i was seeing today. back in costa rica, the butterflies were kept in a house made out of netting, and since it was cool and overcasted that day, the butterflies were all sleepy. not so at magic wings, where more out of necessity than anything else, butterflies are kept in a greenhouse in order to keep them warm during the winter, but the controlled environment means the butterflies can be kept active instead of falling into lethargy when the weather gets bad.
throughout the grounds helpful and knowledgeable staff members were available to answer any butterfly related questions. one of the girls, denise, told us about how she was currently raising some polyphemus moths in her house, her fridge full of dormant cocoons. she said the blue morphos are the most popular butterflies but they're hard to raise because their caterpillars have stinging hairs. blue morphos were definitely very common, although whenever they came to rest they'd close their characteristic iridescent blue wings to reveal several false eyespots. trays of rotting bananas were what they feed on. rice paper butterflies could often found congregated at the sugar water feeders. glasswings were also quite common as well; i remember the first time i saw a glasswing in costa rica it just blew my mind that there was a butterfly with transparent wings, but now, seeing them everywhere, they almost seemed ordinary.
not just butterflies, but butterfly-friendly flowers too:
there were other animals too: chinese button quails ran around the ground, oblivious to the foot traffic of the visitors, pecking at bird feed from this feeding fish. there was a pond filled with colorful kois. a pair of endangered gouldian finches were kept in a nearby case, the female already starting to build a nest. a green hummingbird could be seen periodically visiting a hanging butterfly feeder. and although i didn't see any, there were also firebelly toads hiding about, keeping the greenhouse free of insect pests. i even saw a small caterpillar, not sure what butterfly it was, but it reared up on its back when i got close enough to take a photo.
before leaving, i found the butterfly nursery with its collection of chrysalis of all shapes and sizes:
since the yankee candles corporate headquarter was nearby, we decided to pay it a visit. although christmas had been over for almost a month, it wasn't the case in the yankee candles store, where the holiday was still being celebrated in full force, a crazy disneyesque display of yuletide spirit. besides the outdated christmas decorations, there were of course the candles. i'm not allowed to buy anymore because i already have enough as it is, but i did buy a few votives that were on sale (75% discount). driving back home, it'd started to flurry, and by the time we got to belmont, swirls of white powder could be seen covering the streets like mist. carmine showed me the origami butterflies that he'd made. my sister dropped me off at my parents' place, where we ordered some blue ribbon barbecue for a pickup. my father was printing out online boarding passes for their flight tomorrow morning to taipei. on television the patriots were on the verge of winning their game against the indianapolis colts. there was also live golden globes coverage, which i watched after we brought back dinner. i got a ride home and watched the rest of the award show. the snow continued to fall outside, although it was the dry powdery kind because it was so cold.