You might look at the Butterfly Palace & Rainforest Adventure in Branson and think "just another tourist attraction for kids." But there's more going on behind the scenes than you can imagine, says Brittney Smith, president and general manager.
The Butterfly Palace opened on 76 Country Boulevard in June 2006, but it wasn't until 2013 that Smith and owner Bruce Herschend first traveled to Costa Rica to visit one of the insectarium's butterfly suppliers.
"What we learned from them changed everything," Smith says. "We didn't realize that the butterfly industry began with making a way for rainforest natives to make a fair wage without destroying the rainforest. They take 100% of their profits and use it to purchase land to preserve the rainforest and species within.
"None of our butterflies are native U.S. species," Smith adds. "All of our butterflies are imported from rainforest areas around the world. We get butterflies from Costa Rica, Malaysia, Australia, Africa ...."
That means that butterflies in all of those countries benefit from the butterflies that fly in Branson. But the covid-19 pandemic caused problems along that supply chain that Smith couldn't have anticipated.
"Due to borders being shut down, we could no longer receive shipments of butterflies," she explains. "Meanwhile, farms in the rainforest were without income, and many were in danger of permanent closure.
"When the shutdown first happened, our distributor in Denver, Colo., had thousands of butterflies that typically would be sent out to butterfly exhibits throughout the U.S., but due to closures no one was able to accept them," she continues. "So here he was, sitting on thousands of pupa that would be emerging soon. While we were closed, our supplier reached out to us asking if we could take butterflies that had nowhere to go. So our nonprofit foundation that we created a few years back, called Friends of Butterflies and the Rainforest, stepped in. They purchased any extra butterflies that they could, and we flew them here -- even though there were no guests to see them -- so that they did not die. This also was a huge support to the farms in the rainforest so they had some income coming in."
One good turn deserves another, and the Butterfly Palace was able to reopen in June 2020 with limited capacity, social distancing and required masks. And the butterflies, some 1,000 of them every day representing 40 to 60 species, were able to fly again for visitors in the 7,000-square-foot aviary.
"Butterflies are nectar feeders," Smith explains. "In the wild, they would fly from flower to flower sipping nectar. In our garden they get 'nectar' which is a formula of orange powdered Gatorade mixed with water. They also eat rotting fruit. We cut up grapes, bananas, oranges (anything citrus) and drizzle the Gatorade mixture on top for them to sip from.
"They are free-flying, so if you wear red or bright colors they are sure to land on you," Smith promises. "We hand out nectar flowers so that guests can feed the butterflies, which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you won't get in your back yard. Plus, they are exotic species that you also cannot find in your back yard. Many people think our facility is just for kids. We have something for all ages to enjoy. Especially the butterflies!"
WHEN — 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
WHERE — 4106 W. 76 Country Blvd. in Branson
COST — $14.95-$21.95; season tickets are also available
INFO — 417-332-2231 or thebutterflypalace.com
FYI — An all-day pass also includes a film about butterflies; the Banyan Tree Adventure; Mirror Maze; and Science Center with live reptiles and amphibians.