The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

Frequently Asked Questions

How warm is the Conservatory?

The Conservatory is kept at approximately 85 degrees F. with a relative humidity of 80%. The temperature is about 5 degrees lower at night. These warm humid conditions are needed for the tropical plants and butterflies. A computerized controlled weather system continuously monitors and controls temperature and relative humidity.

How many kinds of butterflies are there?

There are about 50 - 60 species of butterflies in the Conservatory. Some species are always present but others are only available seasonally, so you might see many different butterflies each time you visit. Over a year we have approximately 75 different species in the Conservatory.

Where do the butterflies come from?

Our butterflies come from butterfly farms in the tropics. At these farms butterflies are bred in captivity. The eggs hatch and the caterpillars feed on their native host plants. Once they pupate to a chrysalis, they are harvested and shipped by courier to our Conservatory. Various government permits are required to import the butterflies.


Do the butterflies mate in the Conservatory?

You may see what looks like an eight-winged butterfly as you tour the Conservatory; these are actually a breeding pair. This behavior is referred to as coupling.

Can butterflies bite or sting?

They are not able to because they do not have the necessary mouthparts. In contrast to other insects, the butterfly is a model of innocence.

How well do butterflies see?

A butterfly sees its surroundings through its compound eyes, these are a complex mosaic of tiny lenses. They are able to detect motion and a limited number of different colors - predominantly red, orange and yellow. Butterflies are capable of detecting ultraviolet light, which is invisible to humans, suggesting that they may well see the color of flowers in a quite a different way than we do.

Are there any caterpillars in the Conservatory?

Caterpillars are very host specific; each species will only feed on one kind of plant or group of plants. Caterpillars are voracious eaters and would soon defoliate the plants in the Conservatory if they were present. To avoid this fate the landscaping does not include the host plants of the caterpillars.

How long does a butterfly live?

Once they reach the butterfly stage, most live an average of about 10 days. There are exceptions in the Conservatory. The Longwing butterflies can live 3 or more months.

If butterflies live such a short time, how do Monarchs get to Mexico?

Summer generations of Monarchs live about a month, but the migrating generation lives much longer. Butterflies that emerge in late summer fly to Mexico in about six weeks. Once there they roost in trees. They may live six months or more before they head north, lay their eggs and complete their cycle of 5 generations.

Do all butterflies migrate?

No, not all butterflies migrate. Some species can survive the winter as adults, eggs, caterpillars or pupa; thus, do not have to migrate. A major migrant in North America is the Monarch; in Europe and North Africa it is the Painted Lady. It is in the interest of the species to move abroad and find new territories. Getting away from the parental area is good for the species.

Butterflies feeding

What do butterflies feed on?

Most butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers. Some butterflies also eat pollen, which sticks to their proboscis, dissolves and is ingested. Pollen provides a source of protein, which allows these butterflies to live much longer. Many of the tropical butterflies feed on rotting fruit while others feed on refuse.

What is the biggest butterfly in the Conservatory?

The Owl butterflies are the largest. The female Queen Alexandra's Birdwing is considered the world's largest butterfly measuring up to 11" in wingspan. They are found in New Guinea and are protected. The smallest butterfly is the Pygmy Blue. Its wingspan measures about half an inch.

Are there any moths in the Conservatory?

When they are in season, we have the Atlas moth, the largest in the world. Their wingspan can reach up to 12". The Solitary Oak Leaf Miner Moth has wings that span less than a quarter of an inch. It is one of the smallest moths in the world. Most moths are nocturnal, flying at night or in dim light. Their lifespan is a short 4 or 5 days.

What do you do with the dead butterflies?

Being a U.S.D.A. Quarantined facility, our butterflies are disposed of in accordance to their rules and regulations.

When is the best time of day to see the butterflies?

Different butterflies are active at different times of the day. In the morning you may see many butterflies basking in the sun warming up their muscles to fly, or feeding at the flowers and fruits. As the sun fades later in the day some butterflies, like the Owls, become active while others start to roost.


The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory | 1316 Duval Street | Key West, FL 33040
(305) 296-2988 |

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