The Nation steps into a winged-wonderland at the Botanical Gardens



If you are in Montreal and are desperate for some escapism in the dead of winter, the Butterflies Go Free exposition at the Botanical Gardens is like stepping into a magical fantasyland.

Tropical warmth and luscious greenery provide a welcoming environment for thousands of brilliantly colored butterflies and moths, carelessly flapping by those that have entered into their enclosure only to find themselves mesmerized by this unique exhibit.

“On any given day there will be between 1500 and 2000 butterflies and moths in that exhibit and within that it can go up to 75 separate species. So far there are over 40 species of butterflies and another 10 species of moths,” said Maxim Larivee, the PhD entomologist who is head of research and collections at the Montreal Insectarium.

According to Larivee, the event is a wintertime favorite for locals and tourists alike as it is an incredible opportunity to reconnect with the brilliant beauty of Mother Nature during a bleak time of the year. For those who may not have previously heard of the event, this show is now in its 17th edition as the Insectarium and the Botanical Gardens put on this collaborative effort in the Gardens’ greenhouses every winter. There is also a summertime event that is held in one of the Insectarium’s outdoor facilities.

This year’s event kicked off on Valentine’s Day and runs until the end of April. The Nation was able to take in the show on opening weekend and saw an incredible array of butterflies and moths. But, apparently this show only gets better over time.

This is because as the butterflies and moths become more familiar with their new greenhouse environment for the show, slowly but surely they become more visible as they create “pheromone traces” throughout the exhibit to identify sweet spots to feed and rest.

“The longer the butterflies spend in the greenhouse, the more [inclined] they will be to lay eggs, caterpillars will then hatch from the eggs and feed on the plants and you will then see chrysalis,” said Larivee.

There are also cocoons and chrysalis on display in showcases that will hatch before your eyes. Larivee said that because of this, the show is great to see more than once.

This year’s theme for the event is “Mysterious Monarchs” and there are about 500 of that species in the greenhouse. While the Monarchs are indigenous to North America, their species is in decline. The show aims to educate visitors on what they can do to help the species thrive.

“Monarchs are under siege in many different ways especially through habitat loss and habitat deterioration through their migration pathway. We are launching an initiative called Monarch Oasis. Our animators are offering instructions to the public so that they can build Monarch oases in their back yards,” said Larivee.

The show is also a wonderful opportunity to learn about the many different species of butterflies and moths. The butterfly greenhouse brings together species from all over the world and from a wide variety of climates.

“What we want the people to take away from this show is to not only have had this incredible moment with nature but also a desire to know more and want to go back to see and learn more about butterflies and the wonders of the entomological world,” said Larivee.