About Our Butterflies

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Butterflies shipments are received weekly so there are always many varieties to see. We also have an emergence cage where the butterfly pupa is displayed for your viewing. See how we receive our shipments through the window in our lab room.

A butterfly's structure may seem unusual, but it makes perfect sense for the butterfly. Butterflies taste with their feet, smell with their antennae, and use their proboscis for tasting (like a straw). The most beautiful thing one notices about a butterfly is its striking color.

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions we receive at Wings of Mackinac.

What is Lepidoptera?

(Latin lepid scale + Greek pteron wing) The formal definition is an order of insects with broad wings which have minute overlapping scales, usually brightly colored. This order includes butterflies and moths. Here are some more features of lepidoptera:

  • four large wings
  • scales on the wings
  • sucking mouthparts ( some species do not eat as adults)
  • complete metamorphosis

What is the difference between butterflies and moths?


  • Antennae is clubbed or hooked
  • Usually active during the day. Some are active at dawn or dusk rather then during the warmer part of the day.
  • Most butterflies are brightly colored.
  • Bodies are usually smooth and slender.
  • Butterflies pupate in a chrysalis.
  • Wings do not hook together.
  • When basking in the sun butterfly wings are outstretched, but are vertical over body at rest in the evening.


  • Antennae is feathery.
  • Most moths are active at night.
  • Most moths are brownish and dull in color.
  • Bodies are thicker and furry looking.
  • Moth pupa is enclosed within a silken cocoon. Some moths incorporate leaves into the cocoon. Some moth caterpillars bury themselves in the soil.
  • Forewing and hindwing are coupled with a hook.
  • Wings are held horizontally in most moths.

What's on the menu at the Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory?

We serve fresh hummingbird nectar or sugar water made daily. The butterflies also feed off the flowers, Penta and Lantana. These two flowers are a good nectar source for most butterflies. There is plenty of water for them to drink along with rotten bananas that seem to be a favorite of the Blue Morphos.

How many butterflies are there in the conservatory?

Our first shipment of 2000 butterflies are shipped the end of April. Hundreds are then shipped every week starting the first of May until we close the middle of October. Species we receive have different lifespans and different seasons.

How many different butterfly species do you have?

Our permit allows us to have over 300 species, but this varies throughout the season. Some species appear in the spring and again in the fall. At any given time we have around 75-100 different kinds of butterfly species in the conservatory.

What do the butterflies do in the winter?

Butterflies have a very short lifespan, some as short as 3-10 days! Near the end of the season we stop ordering butterflies and lose the remaining ones when they come to the end of their life cycle. We are closed in the winter months.

Covering the pupa to protect them from predators and the possibility of falling from the trees.

Collecting the pupa in Costa Rica. All of our butterfly species are raised on butterfly farms. They are not caught in the wild.

Large collection on the farm of Blue Morphos raised in Costa Rica. They will be shipped to the different conservatories, museums and science centers.

Great Egg Fly enjoying the sun

The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough. - Rabindranath Tagore