The butterfly effect

Several years ago, Jen Marangelo, a former University of Montana entomologist, visited the Pacific Science Center's Tropical Butterfly House, in Seattle, and was bitten by the bug, so to speak.

"It's just magic when you walk in," she says. "You immediately feel the warmth and the humidity and there's flowering plants all around you and free-flying butterflies. It just really struck me. And when I finally put my feet back down on earth and started looking around, I realized it was having that same effect on everyone."

It got her thinking, she continues, that "maybe this would be something that could be popular and be a real asset in Missoula."

So Marangelo went back to school and, in 2008, earned a degree in museum exhibit design. In 2009 she formed the nonprofit Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium. Ever since she's been working to gather support for the facility. It would be the first of its kind in Montana, and might include a tropical butterfly house, metamorphosis viewing area, insect zoo, classroom, and outdoor pollinator garden. The organization is in the process of raising money and identifying a location, which Marangelo hopes will be downtown.

"For people to be able to come downtown and go to the carousel and be able to then walk down to the Butterfly House and also visit the Children's Museum, we feel like would be a really nice thing for our community."

Jane Scott, of the North American Butterfly Association, says Marangelo's mission reflects a growing awareness of butterfly conservation. The greatest threat to butterflies, she says, is development and the resulting loss of local vegetation. "If we eliminate native plants, then we're eliminating a butterfly's nursery and food source," she says.

Marangelo says Missoula's Butterfly House, if it's built in the coming years, would also feature local bugs. "Some of the tropical, really sexy species can get people excited about insects," she says. "But in addition to that we hope to have an aquatic invertebrate exhibit that can feature things like stone flies [and] caddis flies, and show people what's in our own back yard in the Clark Fork River."

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