We just came back from a wonderful day at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. If you are in the area with (or even without) children, you MUST see this museum! This is our fourth time there. We make it an annual trip each summer when we come to my hometown in Upstate New York.
The kids had a choice: the lovely sandy beach at Sodus Point or what we call simply: “The Museum.” No question, “The Museum” was the unanimous choice. Even the baby had fun. All downstairs exhibits are “hands on” and really entertaining and educational for even the littlest visitors. Upstairs contains a fascinating display of thousands of toys arranged by vintage. Grownups will also enjoy finding the toys from their childhood, and the popular ones are all there!
This year we were able to visit the new Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden that had just opened in a new wing last summer and was too mobbed to get into then. It is the largest indoor butterfly garden in New York and was truly was amazing! Tickets are limited in number and are for a specific reserved time so as to insure that only a small number of visitors are in there at once. There were probably about ten or so in our group.
Visitors wander around the tall glass atrium-like structure through pathways carved out between the lush flowers and vegetation. Soothing music plays in the background and mist emanates from vents placed high up (to maintain the proper level of humidity). A huge variety of butterflies, large and small flit happily to and fro. Many pause to sip nectar from flowers or bird baths filled with fruit. Some also enjoy hanging off loofah-sponges that have been soaked in a divine (to a butterfly) mixture of Gatorade, honey and sugar water. They even seemed to enjoy landing for a little rest on our heads. If you are a butterfly, this is the place to be!!
There is also a window that looks into “the nursery” in which hundreds of different lucky cocoons hang suspended from rows of rods. Some cocoons are small and green, others large and brown and look exactly like curled up dry leaves. There were even shiny gilt cocoons that seemed to have been made of pure gold! If you are fortunate, you might see a beautiful creature emerge from one of these odd-looking chrysalises.
Apparently the museum purchases most of its cocoons (or perhaps larvae?) from suppliers worldwide. However, at least one species reproduces happily within the environment as evidenced by the giant green caterpillar in the last photo below.
This fascinating experience reminds me of an amazing unplugged activity for children: a Butterfly Garden kit. This kit comes with all you need to raise butterflies in your home. There is a mail-away certificate for five larvae that come in a jar complete with all the food they will need.
We did this last summer and it is truly incredible to see how quickly these little thread-sized creatures grow into long, fat caterpillars! We would check them at night before bedtime and then by the morning, they would already have visibly grown. When ready, the caterpillars cocoon hanging upside down off the lid of the cup. After a few days of seeming inactivity (I think maybe 5?), the cocoons start moving and breaking open to reveal their miraculous contents. We were fortunate enough to have all five of our larvae emerge as healthy butterflies.
Summer is the time to do this so that you can release your newly hatched butterflies into your garden. Being an animal (and insect, and any living creature) freak, I checked beforehand that the variety of butterfly that comes with the kit (The Painted Lady, vanessa cardui) was in fact native to, and could survive in my area. The Painted Lady is a tough butterfly that is common over the whole US and is even found on every continent except for Antarctica!
I must be in some sort of butterfly mode at the moment, because the other day I also picked up a wonderful book at Tuesday Morning called Garden Butterflies of North America: A Gallery of Garden Butterflies & How to Attract Them. I have to boast: I bought it for $5.99 and at Amazon the same edition is $15.56!
If you get REALLY into this butterfly thing as we did, then please see my April post entitled The Children’s Garden for more information on how to create your own backyard butterfly garden.