On a recent day off from school, I ventured downtown with my youngest daughter (age 10) to the National Museum of Natural History. Our goal — to learn more about butterflies and to take in the latest IMAX film Flight of the Butterflies.
Our first stop was to see the exhibit Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution. There are two pieces to this exhibit — the Partners in Evolution exhibit hall and and the Butterfly Pavilion. Take a few moments to walk through and read the various informational pieces that give you an overview of the 180-million year journey of the co-evolution of butterflies and plants. Fun fact: Why do butterflies stand on their food? Turns out that they have taste buds on their legs, so they are in fact tasting their food when standing on it.
Before you go for your visit be sure to download and view the Exhibition Guide, which is an informative guide on what you can expect before you visit. There are several hands-on displays perfect for curious hands, but overall older children will get the most out of the wealth of information. This part of the exhibit is free to enter.
After spending about 15 minutes perusing the displays in the Partners in Evolution area (we were on a tight schedule or we would have stayed reading longer), we moved onto the Butterfly Pavilion. The Butterfly Pavilion requires admission and offers the opportunity to enjoy a live butterfly experience. Tickets are timed-entry at 15 minute intervals and pricing is $6 for adults, $5.50 for seniors, $5 for children ages 2 to 12 and there are also group rates. Our Kids recommends that you purchase your tickets in advance online during peak visiting times, which is generally summertime and holidays. Otherwise you are welcome to purchase in person or by phone 202.633.4629.
Tip: Tuesdays are FREE at the Butterfly Pavilion, however you still will need a timed-entry ticket. Tickets are available at the Box Office beginning at 10am each Tuesday. Only 40 tickets are allotted for each time slot, so if you want to go the free route, definitely get there early!
Is the exhibit worth the price of admission? Absolutely! The Butterfly Pavilion is a climate-controlled environment, where the temperature is kept at 80°F and 80% humidity. Inside you’ll be amazed by all of the beautiful butterflies flying all around. My daughter was particularly smitten because several butterflies landed on her. (It was her goal for the day and dressed in bright colors in the hopes of attracting a butterfly to her). Please note, it is very important to teach your children that they may not touch any of the butterflies. So if one lands on you, just let it be and it will eventually fly away.
Some of our favorite butterflies that we saw were the Small Postman, Blue-banded Swallowtail, the Buckeye and Isabella. But there are many butterfly species in the Pavilion, so many that you could spend over an hour just watching. I’d say that most families will probably spend about a half-hour in the Pavilion. In addition to viewing the butterflies flying through the air, you’ll see them feeding on fruit and a case with hanging chrysalids. And if you’re lucky, you might even see a crumple-winged butterfly emerge!
After our jaunt in the Butterfly Pavilion, we headed over to the IMAX Theater and watched Flight of the Butterflies in 3D. It was a great way to round out our butterfly-themed morning. Don your pair of 3D glasses and off you go into the world of a Monarch butterfly.
The film takes you through the story of Dr. Fred Urquhart, a Canadian scientist and his quest to tag thousands of butterflies to track their migration path. We enjoyed how the film intertwined the scientists story with that of Dana (Danaus plexippus), the Monarch butterfly, whose journey you’ll follow from Mexico to Canada. The film kept everyone in the audience engaged while we learned about the Insect Migration Association, founded by Dr. Urquhart, his wife and team of volunteers. This Association was the catalyst for enlisting thousands of volunteers to track the Monarch butterfly and finally learn their secret…..we won’t spoil the secret but instead urge you to go see the film to find out for yourself.
Flight of the Butterflies in 3D is rated G and runs 44 minutes. Our Kids recommends the film for ages 4 and up. Tickets are $6.50/members; $9/ages 13 to 59; $8/ages 60+ and $7.50/ages 2 to 12. They also offer group ticket prices.
- The Butterfly Pavilion is open daily except December 25th. First entry is at 10:15am and final entry is generally at 5pm. They do offer a few days of extended hours over the holidays.
- Play “I Spy” and grab one of the butterfly identification cards as you walk into the Pavilion and see how many butterflies you can find.
- Strollers are not allowed in the Pavilion, however the space is accessible.
- As stated above, tickets are $6 for adults, $5.50 for seniors, $5 for children ages 2 to 12 and there are also group rates. If you purchase your tickets online, there is a $2 per ticket fee that is non-refundable.
- Get to the museum first thing — you can score parking right on Constitution Ave. or thereabouts and not have to worry about paying premiums in the parking garage. Just remember to bring change or use the mobile parking app on your phone.
- “Like” Flight of the Butterflies in 3D on Facebook.