Why butterflies are such a big deal on Mackinac Island

Because Mackinac Island is a car-free destination, it only makes sense that horses and bicycles are popular ways of getting around. And with two military forts more than two centuries old, Mackinac Island is full of history.

But did you know that butterflies are a big deal on Mackinac Island, too?

Mackinac Island is home to two butterfly conservatories: The Original Butterfly House & Insect World, located in Mackinac Island’s Mission District, and Wings of Mackinac, located in Surrey Hill.

How butterflies came to Mackinac Island

It all started back in the early 1990s when Doug Beardsley got the idea for a butterfly house after talking with a friend who had visited one in Europe. Beardsley already owned a greenhouse on Mackinac Island and decided to add butterflies into the mix. It became the first butterfly house in Michigan and is now the third oldest live butterfly exhibit in the entire country.

Back then, Beardsley showcased native Michigan butterflies in his greenhouse and would pay kids $1 for every caterpillar they found on Mackinac Island and brought to him!

Beardsley passed away in the late 1990s, but his legacy lives on. Over the years, his butterfly house had grown and evolved into an educational nature center. In addition to a garden with 1,200 to 1,500 butterflies in it, The Original Butterfly House & Insect World also features exotic beetles from all over the world, a turtle pond, reptiles including a bearded dragon you can pet and even a hedgehog named Burt, who rolls around the place in a giant gerbil ball.

Visitors can hold many of the insects and see butterflies emerging from their pupa, or chrysalis. Twice each day, visitors can witness newly emerged butterflies being released into the greenhouse, and there are special animal encounters scheduled each day, too.

Mackinac Island butterfly houses give visitors the chance to see exotic insects from all over the world up close.

The butterfly conservatory at a Mackinac Island carriage stop

In addition to the Original Butterfly House and Insect World, Mackinac Island is also home to Wings of Mackinac, which is a stop on the Mackinac Island Carriage Tours route. Like the island’s original butterfly house, Wings of Mackinac ships in scores of different butterfly species from all over the world to delight Mackinac Island visitors.

Visiting a butterfly conservatory is one of the most kid-friendly things to do on Mackinac Island, not to mention a great option for rainy days. Both butterfly houses are great places to disconnect from technology and reconnect with the natural world.

Print out this Butterfly Life Cycle Activity page for your family’s visit

Printable activity sheet for kids featuring Mackinac Island butterflies and butterfly houses

Speaking of the natural world, more than 80% of Mackinac Island is state park land that’s full of natural wonders including many butterflies and other insects, of course. It’s a cool experience to hike through Mackinac Island State Park and see a Monarch butterfly, for example, then visit a butterfly house to learn more about that species. You’ll also see and learn about exotic butterflies from all over the world such as the popular Blue morpho, which has a wingspan of up to 8 inches and is found mostly in Central and South America.

The butterfly conservatories on Mackinac Island typically open for the season in May and remain open into October. Come check one or both of them out the next time you visit Mackinac Island!

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