500 new butterflies brighten Kennesaw’s Smith-Gilbert Gardens

woman releasing butterfly. One butterfly perches on her clothingA monarch butterfly perches on the shoulder of guest experience manager Vanita Keswani. (photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

By Rebecca Gaunt

A UPS truck pulled into Smith-Gilbert Gardens Tuesday around 10:30 a.m. with a magical delivery: 500 butterflies.

Garden staff immediately released the butterflies into the pollinator exhibit “A Garden with Wings,” located in the 1,500-square-foot butterfly house. The seasonal exhibit runs through July and is included in admission.

Lisa Bartlett, the garden and education manager, ethically sources the butterflies from suppliers that place them in special envelopes, rather than loose in a box, a method Bartlett compared to “going over a cliff in a truck.”

The exhibit features native butterflies, host and nectar plants, and butterflies in all stages of life.

Despite a morning of thunder and rain, staff was ready to go when the packages arrived. Fortunately the rain cleared for the release, but the remaining clouds meant the butterflies hunkered down on the leaves where they were placed. Some found a perch on nearby humans.

(All photos by Rebecca Gaunt).

Bartlett warned everyone to watch their feet in case some ended up on the ground.

Though the dreary weather dissuaded them from flight, hundreds of butterflies perched on colorful plants was an incredible sight. Bartlett urged a return on a sunny day to see them in all their glory.

Garden volunteer and photographer Phillip Prichard was there armed with his camera. His work can be viewed at Phillip Prichard Photography on Facebook and Instagram. While waiting for the butterflies to arrive, he shared facts about the eating and drinking habits of caterpillars and butterflies and their life spans.

There are approximately 24,000 butterfly species around the world. Life spans range from two weeks to about a year. Monarch butterflies can travel up to 4,000 miles as they migrate between southern Canada and Mexico.

Some other interesting facts: caterpillars eat but don’t drink, while butterflies drink but don’t eat. Butterflies also have the unenviable skill (at least to humans) of tasting with their feet.

Volunteer Victoria Beeler overflowed with excitement as she carefully rehomed the butterflies in her packets.

Rachel Riese, visitor services coordinator, was apprehensive about her first time releasing the delicate insects. One of the monarchs quickly found a home on her striped dress.

Smith-Gilbert Gardens is a 17-acre resource for conservation and education. The Hiram Butler House, built in 1880, houses the gift shop and ticket sales. Butler took part in the Great Locomotive Chase of 1862.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children. Seniors, military and students can buy discounted tickets.

Smith-Gilbert Gardens is located at 2382 Pine Mountain Rd. Parking is free.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.