- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - As if riding on an invisible breeze, butterflies of all colors and shapes wove through the air inside the all-glass conservatory.

Great owl butterflies, with shaded spots on their wings mimicking a pair of predator eyes, found leaves and ledges where the sun was shining. A blue morpho emerged from the branches of birdnest ferns and bougainvillea trees to stretch its iridescent indigo-purple wings on a metal vent.

Lucky children extended their fingers, allowing a butterfly to land delicately on their outstretched hand.

The colors of spring have come to technicolor life in Butterfly Kaleidoscope, an annual exhibit at the White River Gardens at the Indianapolis Zoo. Nearly 40 types of butterflies, from monarchs to blue morphos, freely flit through the tropical plants of a 5,000-square-feet conservatory.

The collection is the only place in the area to see butterflies from jungles all over the world, as well as those common to the gardens of Indiana, the Daily Journal reported (http://bit.ly/Qnk7Hu ).

“Most of these species are not native, so it’s not like it’s something you’ll see in your backyard,” said Lori Roedell, curator of Butterfly Kaleidoscope. “Seeing the diversity of butterflies is really cool. Most kids from the city don’t get to see that all the time.”

Butterfly Kaleidoscope has become a yearly tradition for the Matthews family of the Center Grove area. Rachel Matthews brought her children Preston, 7, and Dalena, 10, to chase the insects along the stone pathway through the exhibit.

The kids were preoccupied with getting the insects to land on their hands, shoulders and heads.

“There are so many of them, and they’re so easy to study in a setting like this. Kids and adults can learn about them,” Rachel Matthews said. “We don’t take enough time to slow down and notice butterflies normally.”

The exhibit has become one of the zoo’s main attractions, Roedell said. Though it originally opened in 1999, the butterfly showcase was closed in 2011. Zoo officials brought it back last year, and it regularly draws thousands of guests each day.

“Butterflies on average are on decline because of habitat loss and pesticides. To be able to showcase that here is important,” Roedell said.

The zoo gets its domestic insects from a special farm in Florida, while a broker in Colorado provides butterflies from all over the world. Shipments of about 1,000 pupa come every week containing chrysalises packed in toilet paper and plastic cups.

At its peak in the summer, the exhibit features 1,500 butterflies. Weekly shipments will continue until a few weeks before Labor Day weekend, when the exhibit will close, Roedell said.

Zoo workers carefully glue each chrysalis to a plastic rod arranged by species. The chrysalises are racked in a screened-in pen, allowing guests to observe each different type.

Occasionally, people can witness a new butterfly emerge and stretch its wings for the first time, Roedell said.

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