Want to help celebrate the 20th “birthday” of the fabulous Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory? Then be at 1316 Duval St. between midmorning and 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, for a kid-centric family fun day and free admission to the renowned attraction.
Twenty years ago, in January 2003, business partners George Fernandez and Sam Trophia debuted the 13,000-square-foot Key West facility — a wonderland devoted to the creatures sometimes called “flowers of the sky.”
The founders’ goal was simple yet profound: to educate and inspire visitors, who typically range from tiny children to seniors, by providing a close-up look at the incredible wonders of the butterfly world. Today, 20 years later, the conservatory still does just that.
In a climate-controlled 5,000-square-foot glass-enclosed habitat, it houses many hundreds of live butterflies from more than 60 species, plus over 20 varieties of exotic birds, in a breathtaking tropical garden that calls to mind a perfect, unspoiled rainforest.
Entering the facility, you’ll first explore educational displays that offer insights into aspects of the butterfly’s life — identification and country of origin, anatomy and physiology, and the awe-inspiring annual migration of the Monarchs.
But you’ll really feel the magic when you step into the butterfly habitat itself. There you can stroll among hundreds of delicate winged creatures, ranging from the glittering Blue Morpho to the vivid Emerald Swallowtail, as they soar and dip and dance between thousands of tropical plants and trees. It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re following their mesmerizing flight — and if you’re lucky, one of the colorful “flowers” might flutter to rest briefly on your arm or shoulder.
However, that’s not all. In one corner of the habitat, you can watch butterflies actually being born — getting a rare glimpse of the hatching process through the wide windows of the “miracle of metamorphosis” observatory.
Actually, the “hatching” of the center was as intricate and intriguing as that of a butterfly. George and Sam spent many years planning it, took research trips to 13 butterfly facilities throughout the world, and invested significant amounts of money and creativity into making it as perfect as possible.
In July of 2013, some other unique creatures joined the butterflies at the acclaimed attraction: two pink flamingos.
A male and a female, the breathtaking pink birds were bred in Toronto. Coincidentally, since the species is often associated with love and romance, the pair was born on Valentine’s Day 2012. Ultimately, they were dubbed Rhett and Scarlett.
Visitors can watch the lovely birds in their private pond as they “dance” — gently moving their feet to stir up food in the water — and enjoy their lives in the rainforest-like habitat.
As well as flamingos and butterflies, the conservatory also houses a stunning collection of Sam Trophia’s butterfly art. He has spent more than three decades preserving the beauty of the winged creatures in original artwork.
If you’re in Key West for the Jan. 21 “birthday party,” as well as viewing the conservatory’s inhabitants you can enjoy crafts and activities for kids and families, picnic-style food, games, giveaways and plenty of other fun for all ages.
But if you can’t be there in January, don’t worry — the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is open year-round with offerings that include daily explorations, guided twilight tours and super-popular small-group “flamingle” encounters with Rhett and Scarlett.
So get a VIP preview here, and put the natural wonderland on the must-see list for your next trip to Key West. You’ll be SO glad you did!