Exploring the world of invertebrates
Article and photos by Lynn Zahorik
You might be surprised to learn that 97% of the species on earth are invertebrates. Animals without a backbone or bony skeleton, invertebrates range in size from microscopic mites to giant squid and can live on land or in water. There is a treasure of a zoo in Colorado just waiting to educate patrons about this important part of the ecosystem.
Conveniently located 45 minutes north of Castle Pines in Westminster, the Butterfly Pavilion (BP) is a fascinating place to visit. It is the world’s only stand-alone Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited nonprofit invertebrate zoo. The 25-year-old BP provides hands-on learning experiences through exhibits and educational programs and conducts research that sets the standard for zoos across the country.
The main attraction at the BP is the vast collection of butterflies and tropical plants in the Wings of the Tropics rainforest. This exhibit is home to approximately 1,600 free-flying butterflies and 200 different plant species. Visitors are mesmerized by the colorful and distinctively patterned variety of butterflies that flit and flutter around the humid atrium.
The most famous resident at the BP is Rosie the Chilean rose hair tarantula who is celebrated in the Survival exhibit. Visitors relish the chance to hold the big, hairy, cuddly spider. The Survival exhibit gives an up-close look at the incredible ways some of the world’s smallest animals overcome the challenges of an invertebrate world. It features an interactive honeybee tree, a dragonfly launch pad and a simulated beetle battle.
The BP has three other innovative exhibit areas. The Water’s Edge exhibit showcases marine life and gives visitors the chance to hold a sea star or horseshoe crab and explore animals that live on a coral reef. The Colorado Backyard exhibit is a play area which features animals from different Colorado ecosystems and the nature trail area includes an outdoor garden and walking paths.
The BP will be expanding to an amazing new 83,000-square-foot campus in Broomfield in 2025, where they will work to become the global hub of invertebrate research, conservation and education. They aim to inspire the next generation of scientists, ecologists, educators and decision makers.
The BP is a popular attraction for Coloradans and out-of-state tourists, averaging 350,000 visitors each year. They are open seven days a week. An online reservation system is in place to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all guests. For more information, visit https://butterflies.org/visit/visitor-information.