WEST ORANGE, NJ-In the midst of summer heat and humidity, there is something very cool going on at Turtle Back Zoo and the Essex County Environmental Center.

"A butterfly lights beside us like a sunbeam,
And for a brief moment, its glory and beauty belong to our world...
But then it flies again, and though we wish it could have stayed...
We feel lucky to have seen it. - Unknown

Standing amid the hundreds of butterflies at the Turtle Back Zoo and Essex County Environmental Center exhibits is an incredible experience. Butterflies fly about you, landing on your shoulder and eating from a stick saturated in gatorade.  They nibble on watermelon, and flutter gracefully amid the plants and foliage, creating a moment in time for visitors that is both exhilarating and calming.  

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Our butterfly journey began at the Butterfly Tent exhibit at Turtle Back Zoo, where Acting Director Brint Spencer described how the exhibit was established.  There were four types of butterflies in the tent, purchased from a breeder in Florida: Monarchs, Giant Swallowtails, Morning Cloaks, and Painted Ladies. In addition, a huge case full of butterfly chrysalises was located in the middle of the exhibit, where visitors could observe the metamorphosis process from chrysalis to butterfly.  

Butterflies have an average life span of 5-14 days, but in that short lifetime, they manage to travel huge distances, mate, and keep the species going.  The tent has about 600 butterflies, and the number remains fairly constant. Knowing that the Butterfly Tent was a safe haven where they would be well cared for and appreciated made the experience for the adults and children that visited even more satisfying. There is an additional $2.00 fee to enter the tent.

While the Butterfly Tent at Turtle Back Zoo provided the 'wow' factor, with hundreds of butterflies and plants, the Essex County Environmental Center opened their Butterfly Tent Safari today with about 100 butterflies and plenty of educational information for visitors.  The Center had mostly Monarchs, Painted Ladies and Black Swallowtails, and they were also in the process of netting local moths and butterflies to add to the tent.  The Center purchased their butterflies from a breeder in New York.  They provided visitors with foam sticks dipped in gatorade for butterflies to sip, saying that it was a nutritionally safe nectar substitute.  

Outside the Environmental Center, several 'butterfly friendly' plants and bushes were growing, like the milkweed plant (Monarchs), Mallow (Painted Ladies) and other nectar plants like black-eyed susans, beebalm, purple coneflower, coreopsis, sweet pepperbush, and buddleia.   

David Alexander, Senior Naturalist at the Environmental Center, described the special room set aside which ran videos of the metamorphases process and provided information about butterflies in general.  A black swallowtail caterpillar was available for inspection with a magnifying glass, along with slides and microscope.  A small cage with swallowtails in metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly was also set up.

There is a suggested donation of $2.00 to visit the ECEC tent.

For more information on Turtle Back Zoo, go to http://www.turtlebackzoo.org.

For more information on the Butterfly Tent and the Essex County Environmental Center, to: http://www.essex-countynj.org/winter.php‎.