Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Toledo Zoo getting butterflies

Insects' first indoor exhibit coming soon


Workers erect a clear tent in the Great Hall of the zoo’s Museum of Science to prepare for the zoo’s first indoor butterfly exhibit that begins on Friday.

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Beginning Friday, the Toledo Zoo will offer a special respite from the winter weather in the form of a free-flight butterfly exhibit.

A tent erected in the Great Hall of the zoo’s Museum of Science will house hundreds of butterflies. The exhibit, which is the first indoor butterfly display for the zoo, is free with the purchase of a general admission ticket and runs through March 2.

“We wanted to add something for the winter that would be a little bit different, something nice and warm,” Executive Director Jeff Sailer said. “It’s a neat change of pace.”

Six varieties of butterflies, all native to the United States, will be displayed: Gulf fritillary, julia, queen, white peacock, zebra longwing, and great southern white.

Jay Hemdal, curator of fishes and invertebrates, said the zoo chose the butterflies based on their ability to adapt to captivity, colorful nature, and availability.

PHOTO GALLERY: Toledo Zoo butterfly exhibit

“These butterflies come from farms in Florida and in Texas,” he said. “It’s what they happen to be raising this time of year.”

The idea for the exhibit surfaced around Memorial Day, and the zoo performed a trial with the butterflies in September and October to be certain the exhibit had the proper environment and food for the insects.

“They did very well,” Mr. Hemdal said.

The thermostat inside the hall will be turned up a few degrees for the exhibit, and numerous plants are being brought in for the butterflies to alight upon. A few extra lights will shine through the tent's clear roof.

The butterflies will be shipped live to the zoo, which required the zoo to obtain permits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Several shipments will be received over the course of the exhibit period as the butterflies’ life spans vary.

“We’ve anticipated opening the exhibit with 500 butterflies, and I’m prepared to bring in up to 300 butterflies a week,” Mr. Hemdal said. “I want to maintain about 500 to 700 butterflies in there at a time.”

The tent will be staffed at all times to ensure the safety of the butterflies and visitors. Educational graphics will be erected.

“If people appreciate a butterfly up close, maybe when they’re out in nature they’ll appreciate them more and conserve them better,” Mr. Hemdal said.

The zoo has the Butterfly Conservation Center and has been involved in conservation efforts for the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly, which hadn’t been seen in Ohio since 1988. The zoo was the first institution to propagate and reintroduce Karner blue butterflies into the wild in 1998.

“Right now, there’s a big conservation crisis with butterflies,” Mr. Sailer said. “A lot of species crashed this summer. There are almost no monarchs in this area, so it’s a group of animals that are in need of help and it’s nice to expose the public to them.”

The zoo is offering a winter coupon for 50 percent off zoo admission through Feb. 26. The coupon can be downloaded from

Contact Alexandra Mester at:, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.

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