Floating Through the Day at Butterfly World
Butterfly World in Coconut Creek (just west of the Florida Turnpike and Pompano Beach) may seem an odd choice for inclusion on an Old Florida website but it has characteristics that allow it to fit the bill.
Certainly it’s a roadside attraction. It’s not like a giant theme park but more like one of many wild animal compounds that dotted the two lane blacktop roads of the past. And like those, from the road you couldn’t tell what you’d see inside. It is considerably slicker than those old Florida attractions but doesn’t rise anywhere near the level of Disney attraction.
And, not unlike Coral Castle or Soloman’s Castle, this is one man’s unlikely dream. In the case of those, it was unrequited love as inspiration for the first and for the second, just a cool way to build a house that then turned into a castle and then an attraction. In this case, Ronald Boender, a former electrical engineer from Illinois, took his lifelong fascination with butterflies and started his own tiny butterfly farm. He saw an opportunity to raise butterflies for research and started a company, MetaScience, to do that. Then he heard of the popular butterfly houses in Europe. He went and checked them out and said, this is for me.
He kept his research business but added his own “butterfly house” which is really several open air aviaries and an insectivorium set with trees and walkways with streams and bridges and even little waterfalls. Since Butterfly World opened to the public in 1988, Boender has added a hummingbird aviary and a lorikeet encounter and a plant nursery filled with passion flowers and other wonderfully exotic looking specimens.
There are parrots to hold on your hand, native Florida plants for sale that butterflies love, a gift shop, a lunch patio with basic offerings and a museum with butterflies and other insects of the world on display. In the museum are some live creepy bugs in glass enclosures like tarantulas, giant roaches and scorpions and there are a couple of big Florida spiders that are loose in the room and build webs in the corners but might turn up anywhere. All in all with all it’s bugs and birds and plants and butterflies, it’s the largest butterfly park in the world.
Boender provides free information about butterfly gardening and has funded the Boender Endangered Species Laboratory at the University of Florida. At least one South Florida species, the Schaus Swallowtail has been helped so much that it may come off the endangered species list.
Parking is free and once you are inside you see some of the research elements including how the butterflies are grown through their entire life cycle. From there you enter the first of the butterfly aviaries and then a second one. You are thoroughly checked out by staff to make sure no butterflies have landed on you and are hitchhiking out of the protected area. (Wouldn’t the birds love to make a tasty snack out of that colorful butterfly on your back.)
The bird aviaries are behind double sets of doors to keep everyone where they are supposed to be. That doesn’t stop them from getting up close and personal once you enter their domain. Two beautiful little birds came and landed on my head in one aviary giving everybody a good laugh.
It is delightful to watch the butterflies and see them drifting and lighting inches away. You are not to touch them intentionally but if they land on you, that’s okay. It’s a photographer’s dream in terms of not only the butterflies but also the birds and gorgeous flowering plants. It’s a great place for families, young and old, and is handicap accessible which means folks with trouble getting around are going to have a real treat getting to see all this without trekking through a swamp or traveling to a foreign land.
No juke joints here. No chunks of smoked mullet or catfish and grits. No alligators lurking just below the water’s dark surface. But still, it has that glimmer of what one guy who is passionate enough can do and that kind of dreamer is surely a part of what defined this state and made every little corner of it special at one time or another.
© Copyright 2014: text Sue Harrison; photos Sue Harrison & Lee Brock for MyOldFlorida.com.