Visit the Fall Plant Sale Saturday to build or boost your butterfly garden!

Butterfly gardening is a great thing to do in the fall. Even though most butterflies will be settling down for the winter in the next few months, your garden will be ready with lots of host and nectar plants for next year’s butterflies. To get you started, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is hosting the Fall Plant Sale this Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon on Level 7 of the museum parking garage. And if you spend $30 or more, your parking is free!


Plants line the seventh floor of the Houston Museum of Natural Science parking garage, ready for the Fall Plant Sale Saturday, Sep. 26.

Most plants we offer are perfect for fall planting. Woody perennials such as salvias, duranta, lantana and many others are hardy for this area and benefit from going into the ground after the heat wave has passed and while the soil is still warm. As long as the root system has had enough time (about a month) to establish itself, the plants will be ready for winter.


Gomphrena Fireworks.

We’ve also got tips to help you maximize your planting season. For better overwintering, provide about two inches of mulch around the base of the plants and cut back the tall leggy growth to build plant strength and more roots. Also, when purchasing plants, you don’t always need to go for the plants with the most blooms. When planting something with a lot of flowers, the plant won’t put much effort into producing roots, which is what you want. Instead, they focus their energy on blooming and won’t be ready for winter. That means a lower chance of survival.



So when you pick out plants, go for bushy, healthy-looking specimens not yet in full bloom. You can even cut the blooms off when you plant, which will increase your chances of success.

Bring your enthusiasm, your green thumb and your curiosity to the Fall Plant Sale at HMNS. We’ll see you there!

Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 9/21-9/27

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week! 


Spies, Traitors, Saboteurs: Fear And Freedom In America Opens Friday, September 25
SPIES, TRAITORS, SABOTEURS reveals nine major events and periods in U.S. history when Americans were threatened by enemies within its borders. It depicts how the government and public responded, illustrates the corresponding evolution of U.S. counterintelligence and homeland security efforts, and examines the challenge of securing the nation without compromising the civil liberties upon which it was founded.

Spies, Traitors, Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America is a creation of the International Spy Museum.

Fall Plant Sale
Saturday, September 26
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (or until sold out)
7th floor of the parking garage
Interested in Butterfly Gardening? The perfect opportunity to get started awaits you twice each year, at the Cockrell Butterfly Center’s semi-annual plant sales! Once in spring and once in fall, we offer a wide variety of nectar plants for butterflies and host plants for their caterpillars. Plenty of experts are on hand to answer your butterfly gardening questions and help you to create the perfect butterfly habitat – right in your own backyard.

Fan Faves for 30 Day Film Festival
September 1-30, 2015
Experience the 7 greatest adventures on Earth in a single day!
From the depths of the ocean to the top of the clouds, from ancient ages to modern marvels, now you can embark on seven astounding expeditions, and never leave your seat! The most popular movies return to the Houston Museum of Natural Science during the Fan Faves for 30 Days Film Festival. Relive these amazing 3-D adventures or catch them for the first time! But hurry, the fun ends Sept. 30.

Whooo’s that? It’s a butterfly!

An owl butterfly, to be exact. Join us this week at the Cockrell Butterfly Center to celebrate one of our favorite flutterers during An Evening with Owls. Named for the huge owl-like eye spots on the underside of their wings, these big beauties have wingspans that can reach up to seven inches or more! The upper side of their wings are often dull in shades of dusky blue and brown.

Close up of an owl eyespot

Close up of an eye spot on the underside of an owl butterfly’s wing.

Owl butterflies don’t hoot, but they are in the genus Caligo which means darkness in Latin. This refers to the fact that they are crepuscular (most active at early morning and/or dusk). These butterflies feed on rotting fruit and their awkward flapping flight may remind you of a bat.

Though they are typically resting most of the day, you can often find them feeding mid-day on their favorite food--rotting fruit. Mmmmmm, moist.

Though they are typically resting most of the day, you can often find them feeding mid-day on their favorite food: rotting fruit. Mmm-mmm, tasty.

What big eyes you have!

Those awesome eyespots do their job quite well!

Due to their size and slow flight, owl butterflies are easy targets for many predators. Good thing those eye spots on their wings are not just for decoration! The spots’ uncanny resemblance to large eyes deter predators during the insect’s most vulnerable times, such as feeding, mating, resting or emerging from the chrysalis. However, these eye-like ornaments are also thought to act as targets which direct the predator away from their main body, allowing the butterfly time to escape.

Dusk + 1000 Owl Butterflies = Magic

There are 15 species of owl butterfly, four of which are flown at the Cockrell Butterfly Center. You can see two of these species featured this week at An Evening with Owls. The tawny owl (Caligo memnon) is most abundant species present. Typically, they have a wingspan of four to five inches but can reach up to six. The other species displayed this week is the forest giant owl (Caligo eurilochus) which has a slightly larger average wingspan than the tawny owl with a range of five to six inches.

The owls are brought in from butterfly farms in Central America, via FedEx!

The owls are brought in from butterfly farms in Central America, via FedEx!  Each foam tray contains about 200  pupae and are carefully packed in each box.

For the first time ever we have increased our owl collection more than tenfold and will have more than 1,000 of these marvelous creatures feeding, flying, darting and chasing each other around at dusk. Your other favorite butterfly species will still be in attendance, but will be roosting rather than flitting about in the twilight. Keep your fingers crossed and hope that one, or a few, land on you!

Tickets are going fast for An Evening with Owls Friday and Saturday night. Don’t miss this one-time-only event!

Editor’s Note: Owl butterflies make great models, and the CBC an excellent portrait studio for butterfly photography! The images below were shot Tuesday night at around 7:30 p.m., after the owls had begun roosting for the evening along with the other butterflies. Photos were shot using a Nikon D90 camera on ISO 1600 with the snapshot fill flash.


Owl butterfly. Jason Schaefer.


Owl butterfly. Jason Schaefer.


Owl butterfly. Jason Schaefer.


Owl butterfly. Jason Schaefer.

You’ll find other roosting butterflies there and camera-ready, like these two species below.


Zebra longwing butterflies roost together on a long hanging vine. Jason Schaefer.


The underside of blue morpho butterflies have spots, but don’t confuse them for the owls! Jason Schaefer.


Top 5 Most Frequently Asked Questions in the Cockrell Butterfly Center

The Cockrell Butterfly Center (CBC) strives to bring the natural world to within the public’s reach. Visitors enjoy tropical plants and exotic animals exhibited throughout the indoor rainforest, insect zoo, and practical entomology hall, and as they wander through the CBC, they’re sure to ask tons of questions! To keep you informed, we’ve compiled a list of the top five most frequently asked questions about the CBC and answered them below. Take a look!

Q. Is that real?

A: It depends on what you are asking about.

Usually this question is asked about the chrysalids hanging in the emergence chamber. In that case, the answer is yes! All the chrysalids you see are real! We receive between 800 and 1,000 chrysalids per week. The chrysalids are carefully glued up so the butterflies can emerge in a natural position. If you look carefully, you may see the chrysalids wiggling. You can also observe the freshly emerged butterflies drying their wings. Twice a day, we collect the butterflies with fully dry wings and release them into the CBC rainforest. On Wednesdays until Labor Day weekend, you can watch how we do it during our Wing It! presentation.

chrysalis board

These chrysalids are real! Soon butterflies will emerge from each one.

When this question is about the plants in the Rainforest Conservatory, the answer is also yes, but with one exception. All the plants are real except for the huge central tree. This tree contains the rainforest’s air circulation system. All others are living plants that are meticulously cared for by our staff horticulturalist, Soni Holladay. Each plant is labeled, so keep a lookout for a coffee tree, chocolate tree, pride of Trinadad, pineapple plants, miracle berry bush, and a variety of beautiful orchids. 

Before and after! All the plants in the CBC are real with the exception of the large central tree.

Before and after the completion of CBC construction. All the plants in the CBC are real with the exception of the large central tree.

Q. How many butterflies are there in here?

A. We keep a collection of more than 1,500 live butterflies in the CBC rainforest at all times. It may seem like more or less, depending on how active the butterflies are. The butterflies are most likely to be actively flying and feeding when there is bright sunlight and warm weather. During these times, the whole rainforest feels like it’s fluttering around you. Early in the morning, or in cooler, overcast weather, many of the butterflies will be quietly roosting underneath leaves. During these times, a sharp eye will allow you to spot the sleeping butterflies all around  you. Take this time to enjoy the variety of colors and patterns that are more easily discernible on butterfly wings that aren’t flying. Owl butterflies, however, are active at dusk. You can watch hundreds of them swirling in our rainforest during our limited-availability event An Evening With Owls, coming in September.


Shhhhhhhhhh! They’re sleeping! Look for roosting butterflies hanging from leaves next time you visit the CBC.

Q. Where do the butterflies come from?

A. We receive the butterflies in their pupal form (chrysalis) through the mail. Each week, we import up to 1,000 live chrysalids from butterfly farms in Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. We also raise a small portion of the butterflies in the greenhouses on the top level of the parking garage. We receive up to 150 different species of butterflies throughout the year. Use the butterfly identification guides as you enter the rainforest to help you identify some of our most common species!


Our butterflies are shipped from farms all over the world!

Q. What do the butterflies eat?

A. The CBC rainforest is always full of a variety of flowering plants. Most butterflies feed on nectar. Watch the butterflies visiting the blooms and you will notice them extending their proboscis into the center of the flower. They use this mouth part like a straw to draw up the nectar. Supplementary food is provided for the nectar-feeders in feeding stations filled with artificial nectar. Artificial nectar is made from a mixture of water, sugar and amino acids. It is soaked into sponges that the butterflies can visit to get an extra snack. But not all butterflies feed on nectar. Some prefer the juices from rotten fruit or tree sap. For the fruit-feeders we provide banana brew (fermenting bananas, sugar and beer mixture) as well as slices of over-ripe fruit. Butterflies are also known to feed on some less savory substances such and dead animals and feces.

GF on Eupatorium 2

A butterfly uses its proboscis to sip nectar from a flower.

butterflies eat gross things

Fun fact: butterflies also get essential nutrients by feeding on feces and carrion!

Q. How long do the butterflies live?

A. It depends. Most butterflies are not long-lived. The average life span for the butterflies in the CBC rainforest is about two weeks. Some, like the Atlas moth, only live a few days. Atlas moths don’t even have mouth parts as adults, so they don’t feed at all! They live off of the fat stores they accumulated as a caterpillar. Several of the long-wing species of butterflies may live up to a couple of months. Perhaps the most well-known species of butterfly, the Monarch, is known for  its amazing migration from Canada to Mexico. The migratory generation of Monarchs can live between 6 and 9 months!

monarch and chrysalis

The Monarch butterfly has a long-lived generation that allows it to migrate from Canada to Mexico.

We hope you enjoyed our quick Q&A session! Drop by the CBC any time to satisfy your curiosity further. We’re always around to answer questions.