Butterfly House at the Museum

This is the Third Annual Opening of the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota’s Butterfly House! This seasonal exhibit just keeps getting better and better.

Highlights this year include: 

  • The exhibit will be open during Museum hours, and there will be a Program Coordinator or Playworker in the area to answer questions. 
  • The Museum is participating in the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP), which will track our little Monarch caterpillar  friends on their journey from egg to adult butterfly!
  • Regular weekly programming will help Museum visitors learn more about Pollinators and the MLMP. Pollinator Programming will be held each Tuesday and Friday from 9am-11am, and the MLMP will meet each Thursday from 9am-11am. No registration required for Pollinator Programming. Registration is required for MLMP.


When you enter the enchanting Butterfly House located in the rear of the Dotson Back 40, you step into a world of vibrant colors and delicate wings–a unique experience for visitors of all ages. The exhibit is completely enclosed and supervised, offering a one-way path with up-close experiences with the butterflies. The House includes host plants and nectar plants alike, offering everything the butterflies need for their life cycle before being released. Visitors are encouraged to carefully and safely interact with the caterpillars and butterflies as they enjoy the beauty of the space. 


Tasha Oliver, Program Facilitator and Butterfly House Coordinator, started planning the needs of the Butterfly house back in February with Director of Museum Education, Kathleen Burns, who oversees the additional garden spaces. Oliver and Burns craft their plans together so they can make the most of their plants and spaces. 

“We plan and order and organize for several months before the larvae even arrive,” Oliver said, “then once we get our initial larvae delivery, we spend the rest of the summer rearing and raising them.” 

The Butterfly House boasts an impressive collection of native nectar plants, with the lantana being a favorite among the butterflies. Visitors have the rare opportunity to observe these magnificent creatures up close, appreciating their intricate beauty alongside the beautiful flora. Painted ladies and Monarchs make up the butterfly population at the Museum. 

The lifecycle of a butterfly, known as metamorphosis, consists of four distinct stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult butterfly. Here is a brief description of each stage:

  1. Egg: The butterfly begins its life as a tiny, oval-shaped egg, typically laid on the underside of a plant leaf. The egg is often round and can have various colors and patterns, depending on the species. Inside the egg, the embryo develops. Visitors will be able to see the eggs directly on the plants. 
  2. Larva (Caterpillar): When the egg hatches, it becomes a caterpillar or larva. The caterpillar is the feeding stage of the butterfly’s life. It has a long, segmented body with several pairs of legs and a voracious appetite. Caterpillars primarily feed on leaves and grow rapidly, shedding their skin several times as they grow larger. During this stage, the caterpillar focuses on consuming food to fuel its growth. The plants they eat are called host plants. 
  3. Pupa (Chrysalis): Once the caterpillar has reached its full size, it enters the pupa stage. The caterpillar attaches itself to a surface, such as a branch or leaf, and forms a protective case called a chrysalis around its body. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar undergoes a remarkable transformation. Its body breaks down into a liquid, and from this fluid, the cells rearrange and differentiate to form the adult butterfly’s structures.
  4. Adult Butterfly: After a period of time, usually a few weeks, the fully developed butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. At first, its wings are crumpled and wet, but soon they expand and harden. Once the wings are fully developed, the butterfly is ready to fly. The adult butterfly seeks nectar from flowers to feed on and begins the process of mating and laying eggs, continuing the life cycle.

Lifecycle of a butterfly

The entire lifecycle of a butterfly can vary in duration, ranging from a few weeks to several months, depending on the species and environmental factors. Each stage of the butterfly’s life serves a unique purpose in its development and contributes to its ability to pollinate plants and perpetuate its species. 

The first generation of the season starts with the larva delivery, so with a 2-6 week life cycle, there ends up being four generations of the season. It’s not until the very last generation of the season–which is about in September–that will go to Mexico for migration. 

Some fun facts:

  • The butterflies are ectothermic, meaning they rely on the sun’s heat. They need to bask in its warmth to fuel their flights. The location of the Butterfly House was carefully chosen, allowing for ample sunlight during the day and providing a shaded area in the afternoon, creating a perfect balance for both butterflies and visitors.
  • The butterflies tend to congregate, making it challenging to count them accurately. 
  • The female monarch can lay up to 400 eggs in her lifetime, which is only 2-6 weeks long, so the Museum releases more females than males into the wild to help the population. 
  • One caterpillar will eat eighteen inches of milkweed plant to fuel its needs until it’s ready for a chrysalis. 


Like all of the exhibits at the Museum, the Butterfly House serves as an educational and interactive space for children. Oliver assures that while parents may feel apprehensive about their children reaching out to touch a caterpillar or butterfly, it is all part of the learning process. Encouraging children to explore and learn within the Butterfly House helps them gain confidence while understanding the delicate nature of these creatures. Gentle handling and supervision prevents harm to the butterflies.

Because the Museum is fostering the true lives of the butterflies, there could be times when you come to the Butterfly House this season and there are no butterflies. Seeing the eggs and the caterpillars is not always as colorful, but still a fun opportunity. (Having a Museum membership means stopping by often to witness the full life cycle!) 

Tasha Johnson, Program Facilitator at the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota

“We had our guests participate in the naming of the painted ladies as caterpillars,” shared Oliver, “we want guests to have meaningful interactions. We’ll have a lot of fun stuff going on for National Pollinator week starting June 20th, as well as a Butterfly Festival in July.”

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