Let your inner child awaken through Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium

Think butterflies in February—delicate wings floating from flowers to fingertip in a tropical enclosure. 

It’s a hiccup in thought for winter-ridden Missoulians but for the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium, it’s less a thought and more a vision—one that’s starting to take shape as part of the Missoula County Fairgrounds’ redevelopment project.

Adults might enjoy the “tropical” aspect, while youngsters may find great wonder in the bugs but upon visiting the Insectarium’s current downtown educational facility, I felt my inner “bug-boy” awaken. And that’s the magic of places like this: wonder, fascination, play.

In my yesteryear, I was a bug enthusiast, spending countless hours lifting rocks, poking “roly-polies,” and jar-collecting bugs in my backyard with a fearless attitude toward spiders. I may have even eaten an ant or two as a kid. 

Carolyn Taber, the Insectarium’s museum educator, speaks to my inner child. 

“Many kids are fearless when it comes to approaching insects…the fun challenge in educating people on insects is overcoming adult fear,” said Carolyn.

This is true: as we age, we lose our fearless generosity toward bugs. Or as the Insectarium’s development director, Glenn Marangelo, simply put it: we take bugs for granted.

“Insects play critical roles in our lives and ecosystems,” Glenn stated. “Yet, nature’s negative moments tend to override the positive moments in our memory.”

Bee stings, spider bites, mosquitoes—several negative associations immediately come to mind. Naturally, with negative associations with nature come negative misconceptions, such as insects sting and bite out of sheer ill will toward the human species. They are out to get me! From there we view the insects in our backyards not as life-essential pollinators and decomposers but as invasive, foreign pests—otherwise internalized as unnecessary lifeforms. 

“This is why we prioritize education over advocacy,” added Glenn. “Education dispels fearful misconceptions that prevent us from caring for biodiversity in the first place.”

Essentially, the Insectarium’s form of education works as a sort of hands-on advocacy, and one that literally puts the bugs in your hands. Students, volunteers, and recreational entomologists may learn about the exotic bugs on display, including a bird-eating tarantula named Polly, or participate in community activities ranging from field trips, bug clubs, and camps to more adult-oriented events, such as the “Bugs & Brews” lecture series taught by local scientists and professors, and sponsored by Draught Works.

All of which only represents the Insectarium in its current stage.

“While we do have butterflies at our current location,” Carolyn Taber explained, “the ‘Butterfly House’ part of our name will finally come to fruition with the tropical butterfly house at our new learning center at the Fairgrounds.”

Like a butterfly, the Butterfly House must undergo several phases of metamorphosis before ultimately maturing into a fully functional tropical butterfly house. The current phase I compare to a cocoon (or “chrysalis”), albeit an incredibly active cocoon. Once complete, the Butterfly House will host a nationally unique learning center for children and adults to not only ogle insects but walk among them in a year-round tropical climate. Of course, with a continued focus on education.

Through community education the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium will not only expand toward a new, larger learning center at the Fairgrounds but also expand our own backyards, as we return home with our adult fear-filters off—bug-boys and bug-girls revived. 



See It For Yourself

218 E Front Street

Open Hours: Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.