Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on Santa Rosa County nonprofit organizations that improve our quality of life.
NAVARRE — The Panhandle Butterfly House in Navarre Park offers environmental education while adding to local tourist attractions four months each year, according to Santa Rosa County residential horticultural agent Mary Derrick.
Inside the butterfly habitat, visitors can watch stages of the insect’s life — from egg to caterpillar, to butterfly — and eye local species like the monarch, the Julia, the common buckeye, the swallowtail and the state butterfly, the zebra long wing.
The Butterfly House draws visitors from 48 states and foreign countries, and its volunteers help teach people how to reproduce a hospitable environment for butterflies in their own landscape, according to Derrick.
What’s a typical lesson?
“We talk about good plants to choose … and then good practices to use in their yards in order to have those butterflies remain in that environment; things like avoiding pesticides that would harm them,” Derrick said.
Monarch Watch, a University of Kansas program, involves studying Monarch butterflies’ migration patterns, according to Derrick. The Butterfly House takes part in its annual Monarch Madness program.
“One thing that the researchers do is promote tagging by various groups around the country, so we purchase the tags from them and those particular tags are unique to us,” Derrick said. “We tag 500 butterflies during Monarch Madness then they’re released.
“When the researchers find butterflies with tags, in Mexico, they scan those tags, then that gives them one more piece of information about where did that butterfly start from and where did it end up.”
During Monarch Madness, Oct. 20 and 21 this year, visitors can tag a monarch butterfly and release it with volunteers’ help.
IN THE BEGINNING
Jack and Fonda Wetherell founded The Panhandle Butterfly House in 1997. The Wetherells were butterfly and nature enthusiasts not associated with a particular group, Derrick said.
The exhibit began as a program of the Santa Rosa Clean Community System Inc., the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Service, and the Navarre Chamber of Commerce.
The existing structure replaced the original building in 2003 following Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis.
NEED FOR VOLUNTEERS
“One of our challenges has always been to maintain enough volunteers to run the operations,” Derrick said.
The Butterfly House closes at the end of August because volunteers often grow burned out, she said.
With more help, the Butterfly House could stay open another month, according to Derrick.
“It’s still a nice warm sunny month and good for butterflies and good for the exhibit, and we could maybe get some more field trips through the schools. That’s a big audience for us in May: the elementary school field trips,” she said.
4 TYPES OF VOLUNTEERS
The Butterfly House accepts volunteers as young as 14.
“(We look for) somebody who is enthusiastic about our natural world and … outreach that betters our environment,” Derrick said.
These volunteers are in demand:
•Tour guides: They lead tours through the butterfly house and teach various groups that visit, whether elementary students or a senior citizens’ group.
•Docents: They greet people as they enter the Butterfly House, explain the organization’s background and features, and answer questions.
•Gardener: The Butterfly House always needs people to help take care of indoor and outdoor gardens.
•“Marketeer”: The Butterfly House also needs help selling T-shirts, books, coloring books and seeds.
The donation-funded Panhandle Butterfly House is located in Navarre Park, 8581 Navarre Parkway, and opens from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. the first Saturday in May to the last Saturday in August. Monarch Madness takes place Oct. 20 and 21 this year.
All tours run Monday through Wednesday; those interested must schedule them 10 days in advance. Tour guide orientation is set 10 a.m. to noon March 21 at the Navarre Visitor Center in Navarre Park, 8543 Navarre Parkway. Call 936-1017 for more information on volunteering.
Docent training day is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 11 at the Navarre Visitor Information Center. Contact Patricia Fandt, the docent coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Mary Derrick, 623-3868, or Louise Biernesser, 376-8708, for more information about the Panhandle Butterfly House.