Magic Wings Butterfly House | Museum collection

clipper butterflyThere are over 100 species of butterflies in the Magic Wings Butterfly House, and they are all world travelers. They hatched as caterpillars in tropical rainforests in the Philippines, Malaysia, Africa, South America and Central America. They ate and grew until they transformed into chrysalises. Then they were collected by butterfly farmers, carefully packed, and shipped to Durham. You can see the butterflies emerge from their chrysalises before being released into the Butterfly House. But you will never see butterfly eggs or caterpillars.

Every week the Museum receives a shipment of about 500 butterfly pupae from butterfly farms around the world. After unpacking and unwrapping each chrysalis, they are hung so they can complete their development correctly. Emerging butterflies are released into the tropical conservatory every day.

Some of Our Butterflies

Marveling at the beauty of butterflies can be enough to make a visit to Magic Wings worthwhile. But we think you’ll appreciate our butterflies even more when you know something about their behaviors and the amazing adaptations they use to survive.

malachite Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)
North, Central & South America
This butterfly is named after a green stone. It’s one of the few butterflies that can feed on both flowers and fruit. Ours come from tropical areas, but you may also see them in southern Florida.
blue morpho (morpho peleides) Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides)
Central & South America
The Morphos are among the best-known tropical butterflies, and you’ll know one if you see it! The blue only shows when they fly; the underside of their wings is brown with several eyespots. Look for them around the fruit we’ve put in the conservatory.
owl butterfly (caligo eurilochus)
Owl Butterfly (Caligo, several species)
Central & South America
These big butterflies congregate near fruit, as they love the fermenting juice. You may also find them sitting on walls or tree trunks in shady places. They tend to fly more at dawn and dusk.
dead leaf (kallima paralekta) Dead Leaf (Kallima paralekta)
Southeast Asia
One of the most amazing examples of animal camouflage, this butterfly even has “leaf vein” markings and a stem-like “tail” in back. When it spreads its wings, it reveals gorgeous shining blue with orange markings. This butterfly is a fruit feeder.
postman (heliconius melpomene) Postman (Heliconius erato or H. melpomene)
Central & South America
Brightly colored and active, this is the butterfly you’ll see the most. Not all individuals look the same, though, and there are many other patterns besides the one shown here. Their ability to digest nutritious pollen lets them live far longer than most butterflies, up to 9 months. Most butterflies only live for a few weeks.
paper kite butterflies Paper Kite (Idea leuconoe)
Southeast Asia
These lovely butterflies can be seen gliding above the flowers, their translucent wings looking like fine paper. They are relatives of the monarch, and like monarchs are protected from predators by toxic chemicals in their bodies. They’re also very tame and unafraid of people – in fact, you may attract one if you’re wearing anything scented!
cattleheart butterfly Cattleheart (Parides, several species)
Central & South America
Though it may not look like one, this butterfly is in the swallowtail family. Its colors advertise the fact that it’s bad-tasting and toxic to predators. Many other butterfly species mimic these colors to gain protection.
tiger mimic butterfly Tiger Mimic (Tithorea harmonia or T. tarricina)
Central & South America
These orange-and-black butterflies are part of a large group of species that all have a similar color pattern. Since some of them are protected by toxic chemicals, all of them are avoided by predators – whether they’re good to eat or not!
zebra mosaic butterfly Zebra Mosaic (Colobura dirce)
Central & South America
This little fruit-eating butterfly sits head down on tree trunks when it rests. The pattern on the wings confuses predators so they can’t tell which end is head or tail. The predator goes for the “head” facing up – and ends up with only a piece of wing as the butterfly takes off!
emerald swallowtail butterfly Emerald Swallowtail (Papilio palinurus)
Southeast Asia
One of our most beautiful butterflies, the Emerald Swallowtail has shining green bands and flecks that look like glitter. It tends to fly high, so you’ll have to look up to see one resting on a leaf or visiting a flower. For a closer look, come watch us release them!
shoemaker butterfly Shoemaker (Catonephele orites)
Central & South America
The Shoemaker is one of the few butterflies we have that differs in pattern between the sexes. Males are velvet black with an orange band across the wings, while females have horizontal yellow dotted lines. They can be seen resting on leaves or visiting fruit.
citrus swallowtail butterfly Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio demodocus)
This “tailless” swallowtail is one of the few butterflies whose caterpillars may become pests, as they feed on citrus trees such as oranges and lemons. Watch for it as it visits flowers, fluttering its wings rapidly like all swallowtails do.
scarlet peacock butterfly Scarlet Peacock (Anartia amathea)
South America
This small, active butterfly can be seen perched on leaves wherever the sun is shining. Butterflies tend to “sleep” when the sun isn’t out, so you’ll have to look a little harder.