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State Zoo Opens Butterfly House
By Lani Jefcoat
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The Jackson Zoo will play host this summer to thousands of butterflies in a special six-month event.
The zoo, with assistance from the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, is preparing a 3,000 square foot shade-cloth butterfly house.
"Butterflies and moths native to Mississippi will live in the house," said Felder Rushing, Hinds County Extension horticulture agent. "There are 151 types of butterflies native to Mississippi. The 25 to 30 kinds in the exhibit were chosen because they are commonly found in Mississippi gardens."
Butterflies from a meadow outside the house will be added inside the house in addition to the stocked butterflies.
"This exhibit gives people the opportunity to study plants along with the butterflies and offers a good plant and flower demonstration," Rushing said. "Plants depend on the butterflies for pollination so this is a beneficial environment for both."
Butterflies live anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The house will be stocked each week with chrysalises and young butterflies, but organizers hope the butterflies will reproduce on the host plants used in the exhibit.
Designers expect many school children to visit the butterfly house, and exhibits will give children a chance to see the different stages of metamorphosis they are learning about in school.
"We want this effort to take the process to the people and bring more awareness and interest in the research done by our Experiment Stations," Rushing said.
The house is 12 feet tall and is covered with an insect netting to keep the butterflies in and wasps out. Visitors must go through two doors to get inside the house and there are fans placed above the doors to blow the butterflies back.
Rushing custom developed a fog system for the house designed to keep butterflies and people cool. The house is patterned after existing butterfly houses, but it is the first to be built in Mississippi.
The plants in the house were chosen to encourage the caterpillars to eat the leaves so they grow healthy and produce beautiful butterflies. Some of the plants for caterpillars will be sassafras, oak trees, Queen Anne's lace and fennel. Tomato and cabbage plants for will be available for worms that turn into beautiful moths.
The flowering plants grown for the butterflies are lantanas, verbenas, buddleia, pentas and zinnias. The butterflies are attracted to brightly colored flowers and pollen in the flowers.
All of the plants used in the butterfly house are from Mississippi growers. The plants have been part of demonstrations and trials at Mississippi Experiment Stations to find the strongest, long blooming flowers that attract butterflies.
"The more flowers you have, the more butterflies you have," Rushing said.
Dr. Pat Harris, Extension entomologist, developed a safe and effective way to control fire ants without using harsh chemicals in and around the butterfly house. Dr. Patricia Knight, assistant horticulturist at the South Mississippi Experiment Station, and Dr. David Tatum, Extension horticulturist, assisted in locating plants for the exhibit.
About 150,000 people are expected to attend the exhibit which opens May 1 at the Jackson Zoo and closes Oct. 31.