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Butterflies rescue a besieged grandpa

© by Mike Keenan

Niagara Parks' Butterfly Conservatory

When three rambunctious grandchildren arrived from Vancouver along with their amazingly organized mother and her helpful sister, and they all stayed in Niagara on the Lake with us for a solid week, we needed all the help we could get - because we are talking here not of your more placid, able-to read-books-quietly- and-play-cooperatively girls, but the opposite work of art, namely highly competitive boys aged 7, 3.5 and 1.5, all aggressive and painfully articulate, at times reaching the incredible yet ear-piercing decibel level of a supersonic jet, and blessed with the unique "y" chromosome, which we all know is often used as evidence by prosecuting attorneys to ask compliant judges for the harshest punishment available.

After "pillow forts" indoors (our couches will never be the same) and water-based activities in the backyard had ceased - consisting primarily of water fights, i.e. throwing pails, cups and every other feasible container full of water - at the nearest victim and then running away giggling madly in the process, we desperately needed an alternative strategy that might help calm these three vigorous characters down, if that was even possible, excluding powerful drugs, of course, which was narrowly defeated in a secret, registered vote.

I floated the idea (sorry about that) of a ride on Hornblower to the base of Niagara Falls. The great weight of water might reinforce their water fight motif, but it was worth the risk. The kids could remain behind glass if they wanted. Unfortunately, they rejected my offer, so I had to save Hornblower for another visit.

To my rescue, Lepidoptera suddenly popped into my brain, and as quickly as one might say, "John Wyndham's Chrysalis," we were all at the Niagara Parks' Butterfly Conservatory positioned along the Niagara River.

Our self-guided walking tour of the Butterfly Conservatory began with a short, informative video presentation which, of course, the boys found utterly boring, so we quickly moved into the actual conservatory. The effect was magical. As soon as we entered, William, Emmett and Theo's metabolic rate slowed down dramatically. They were truly entranced by the tiny, multi-coloured creatures that often landed on an errant arm or leg, causing the once boisterous lads to remain quite still. I daydreamed briefly of the cost of installing a small conservatory in our home.

Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, Emmett zeros in, photo by Mike Keenan  Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, Emmett, Theo & William entranced by butterflies, photo by Mike Keenan  Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, Emmetts one-finger vs Williams whole hand landing approaches, photo by Mike Keenan  Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, photo by Mike Keenan  Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, photo by Mike Keenan  William lands a butterfly, photo by Mike Keenan

2,000 colourful tropical butterflies floated freely amongst lush, exotic blossoms and gorgeous Niagara Parks' greenery. We slowly followed trails that led us through a rainforest setting, past a pond and waterfall, and William spotted a turtle which he pointed out to Emmett and Theo. I was immediately surprised that they were now engaged in cooperative learning.

At the "Emergence Window," we saw how butterflies actually leave their pupae and prepare to take their first flight! There are many tiny glass holes for better looks.

Although we were there at opening time (10a.m.), the place was filling fast, probably with more grandparents seeking sanctuary. The children were delighted when a butterfly thought my nose was a flower and perched up there for quite some time. Some butterflies were so well camouflaged, blending in with their background, that we had to be careful not to crunch them.

There were several stations scattered about where butterflies listlessly munched on fruit - primarily oranges and bananas set on a plate. The exotic ferns and plants with amazing colour and configurations attracted the tiny pollinating creatures like moths to light.

Although there is a helpful informative sign at the entrance with pictures and Latin names of all of the butterflies on display, Emmett and William favoured "the blue one," an elegant iridescent specimen with a shock of black outer colour that provided sharp contrast. I wondered about getting my car repainted in that stunning colour.

From informative Niagara Parks signage, I learn that Lepidoptera is Greek for "scale-winged." If you touch a butterfly's wing, you notice that the colour rubs off. The colour is actually thousands of scales overlapped like shingles on a house. The microscopic scales are unique in the insect world.

Just outside the conservatory, the children were impressed with a massive black Percheron horse, the kind you see transporting tourists in Niagara on the Lake. This powerful animal was harnessed to ferry four rows of seats or about 12 people plus a driver.

Back home, grandpa told the children about the marvelous monarch butterfly which we do not see much of lately. The eastern North American monarch population is notable for its annual southward late-summer/autumn migration to Mexico. That's a long flight for such a tiny specimen! The children, (I think) were impressed with grandpa's vast knowledge, but soon were back to pillow forts and water fights.

The Butterfly Conservatory is located on the grounds of the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, 10 minutes north of the Falls. There are 180 metres of pathways winding through a lush, tropical environment. Admission is $13.95 (Adult + tax, 13+ years), $9.10 (Child + tax, 6-12 years). Children 5 and under like Emmett and Theo are free at all Niagara Parks attractions. Parking at the Botanical Gardens is $5.00. Local residents may pay a one-time fee of $10 for an annual parking pass (increasing to $11 effective Jan 1, 2015).

William at feed station, photo by Mike Keenan

Theo, Emmett & William summon buttetrflies, photo by Mike Keenan

Besides writing for the five Niagara Postmedia newspapers, Mike has been published in every major newspaper across Canada including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Toronto Sun. He has been published in National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City, Seniors Review and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. With hundreds of reviews, photos and helpful votes, he has earned Trip Advisor's "Top Contributor Badge" and is considered an "Expert" in both Hotels and Restaurant reviews. Mike posts photos to Pinterest where he has a following of four thousand viewers.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

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