One of the great free things to do in Northwest Florida, the Panhandle Butterfly House is a haven for one of nature's most fascinating creatures and a great day-trip to take with kids.
It's also a fun way to learn about migrating Monarch butterflies and local species like the Zebra Longwing, and how to conserve and protect their habitats. Bring a picnic lunch and swimsuits for the adjacent Navarre Park or for a trip out to Navarre Beach.
This locally grown conservation and learning facility was born in 1997 when a group of butterfly lovers led by Jack and Fonda Wetherell, teamed with the Navarre Chamber of Commerce and several local organizations to create a place that would both protect species and educate the public. With a mission to foster a better understanding of butterflies and increase awareness of the natural habitats in which they thrive, the Panhandle Butterfly House provides a premier educational attraction for both locals and visitors alike.
Located on U. S. Highway 98, next to the Navarre Visitor Center and at the foot of the Navarre Beach bridge, this interactive exhibit features a butterfly garden for migrating butterflies and a butterfly habitat and nursery housing local species. The facility is operated entirely by volunteers and offers classes and education in butterfly gardening, habitat conservation and ecosystem management.
Inside the main entrance is a collection of mounted butterflies from all over the world donated by Gulf Breeze resident Dr. Tom Grow, butterfly plants for sale and friendly docents who are happy to answer questions. Visitors step from the main entrance outside into a secure butterfly haven that includes host plants, feeder plants, fountains a butterfly nursery and dozens of butterflies in flight.
Butterflies live from a couple of weeks to several months, so the butterfly life cycle happens quickly. The brief period from the time eggs are laid to mature butterflies means that babies are hatching all the time. Boxes of hungry and growing caterpillars, butterflies in the chrysalis stage and host plants dotted with milky-white butterfly eggs are lined up in the nursery area. Butterflies are also purchased from distributors and butterfly releases are scheduled when new shipments arrive.
The Zebra Longwing butterfly is the Florida state butterfly and is so called because of its black and yellowish-white striped wings. It usually isn’t found west of Tallahassee, but it along with the brilliant orange Julia and the distinctive orange and back patterned Monarch can be found at the Panhandle Butterfly House.
In October, the Monarch butterfly migrates to Mexico through the Florida Panhandle. During this time the facility acts as a Monarch way station where milkweeds outside the building nourish the butterflies on their journey. Volunteers also host a Monarch migration tagging where the butterflies are caught, tagged with a number and released. When the butterflies are found, the finder can contact the Butterfly House and tell where the butterfly was found.
The Panhandle Butterfly House is located at 8581 Navarre Parkway and is open from mid-April to Labor Day each year and on a designated day in October for Monarch migration tagging. It is one of only two such facilities in the region. The other is the Butterfly House at Miracle Strip @ Pier Park.
Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. Hours are Thursday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and the facility is kid-friendly and handicap accessible. For more information or to schedule a group tour, call 850-623-3868.