This summer’s Butterflies Alive! exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History features malachite butterflies.

This summer’s Butterflies Alive! exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History features malachite butterflies.
  (Gary Robinson)

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is opening its outdoor areas to the public, including the Butterflies Alive! exhibit, starting July 8. The museum’s new open hours are 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; online reservations are required for entry.

Butterflies Alive!, one of the museum’s most popular exhibits, features a variety of butterflies, from well-known varieties such as the monarch to the more exotic types like swallowtails, longwings, Gulf fritillaries, and malachites (the latter not seen in the pavilion since 2014). Various butterfly species cycle through the pavilion throughout the summer, so no two visits are the same.

Flowering plants and ample foliage provide butterflies with nectar and roosting space, while contributing to the tranquil garden atmosphere.

In years past, museum guests have watched chrysalides reared for the exhibit emerging as adult butterflies through a special window into the butterfly lab. While this indoor exhibit space is closed, the museum is sharing behind-the-scenes views of the butterfly-raising process in videos on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

In another effort to share that special process with the public during this unusual year, the museum’s Butterfly Pavilion manager Kim Zsembik has started the Instagram account @butterflywrangler featuring butterfly fun facts and views from the pavilion and lab.

“We are so grateful for all the positive feedback from our members who have enjoyed our socially distant Butterfly Pavilion during our preview. We think this is the best pavilion thus far,” Zsembik said. “We’ve been able to create a personal yet socially distant and safe experience for families to slow down and see up close look at all the 14 species of butterflies inside.”
Located just beyond the Sprague Butterfly Pavilion, the renovated and ADA-accessible Museum Backyard is a nature play area nestled in the oak woodland. Backyard features have been modified to accommodate social distancing and safety.

In addition to playing in the artificial creek, which is especially popular on a hot summer day, guests can visit three new stations with expert naturalists who will show and tell about birds, botany, snakes, insects, and geology.

Across Mission Creek is a shaded woodland great for birdwatching, having a picnic, or exploring the ethnobotanical Sukinanik’oy Garden of Chumash Plants. The garden was established by the museum working with Chumash people to preserve traditional plant knowledge.

The museum has developed comprehensive health and safety protocols to help keep guests and staff safe. These include online reservations to limit the number of guests visiting at one time; a new one-way flow from the entrance to exit to allow for social distancing; hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations throughout; and increased cleaning of all public areas, especially high-touch surfaces.

Masks properly covering the nose and mouth are required for everyone age three years and older.

To learn more or reserve tickets, visit Indoor galleries and the Sea Center on Stearns Wharf will reopen when regulatory agencies permit indoor operations at local museums.