Jeff’s Arizona Adventures – Butterfly Wonderland

Jeff Colburn

Arizona is a nature photographer’s dream. We have mountains (regular and volcanic), deserts (regular and painted), forests (regular and petrified), canyons (that big one in northern Arizona) and much more. But every so often you want more, you want something different, and that’s where man-made environments come in. These artificial environments give you a chance to photograph plants, flowers and animals that you wouldn’t find when you trek around Arizona. You have your choice of zoos, wildlife parks, aquariums, aviaries and my favorite, Butterfly Wonderland.

Butterfly Wonderland is in Scottsdale and features many different tropical butterflies, or flutterbys as I call them. I mean, what the heck is a “butter fly?” When I see them go past me, they “flutter by.” But I digress.

Before you see the flutterbys, you pass through the Emergence Gallery. Here, in a glass case, there are rows of cocoons, or chrysalides, which range from tiny to huge. Some cocoons look like pieces of jewelry, while others look eerie and I half expected a tiny vampire to climb out at any moment.Usually, there are several newly emerged flutterbys in the case. It’s a great opportunity to photograph them as their wings slowly fill with blood, unfold and begin to flap for the first time. This room can get pretty crowded when the flutterby movie from the next room lets out. Just wait a few minutes, the crowd will move on and you will have the room to yourself.




When you’ve taken enough photographs of chrysalides, you can move on to the main event, The Conservatory. This is the largest flutterby atrium in the United States. It houses thousands of these fragile creatures. Most of them are tropical species, so it’s warm and humid inside.


Be sure to have some lens tissue to wipe condensation off the front of your lens until it acclimates to the temperature. The roof of the atrium is glass, which provides ample light on sunny days. You may need to boost your ISO if you’re in an area with plants overhead. If you have a ring light, it would be a good idea to bring it as it will freeze any movement of the flutterby’s wings.


Flutterbys are one of my favorite creatures to photograph. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. As a rule, you can get pretty close to them without them taking flight. They are so used to people in the atrium, that I was able to get very close to most of the flutterbys without them flying off, even using my macro lens. This gives you a lot of great photographic opportunities.


I do have one warning. We were there on a rainy day. Actually, the sky opened, the wind howled and there was widespread flooding and wind damage in the area. During the storm, rain leaked through the glass roof in many places, so be prepared to protect your gear in this situation.


Besides the joy of being surrounded by flitting flutterbys, they will also land on you, so be careful not to hurt these flying jewels that may be using you as their own private transit system. On your way out of the atrium a staff member will inspect you to make sure none of these critters are hitching a ride.


Head on over to Butterfly Wonderland and spend the day in a tropical rain forest filled with brilliant colors flitting all around you, just waiting to be photographed.





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