Georgia center’s expansion puts nature on stage

? Fresh from its own six-month, $2 million metamorphosis, the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center has reopened at Callaway Gardens, a 14,000-acre nature and recreation center in the Appalachian foothills.

The octagonal, dome-shaped glass conservatory, nearly as tall as a four-story building, is home to more than 1,000 tropical butterflies, along with lush flowers.

Callaway officials expanded the center to accommodate the growing interest in butterflies and to ensure that it remains among North America’s top butterfly attractions.

“The best part of the job is seeing the guests — the smiles, the interaction,” said conservatory manager Nicole Gamble, an entomologist at the center.

About 750,000 people visit Callaway Gardens each year, and nearly all of them stop in to see the butterflies flutter about, displaying intricately adorned wings in iridescent colors. In addition to the butterflies and gardens, Callaway, about 70 miles southwest of Atlanta, has biking and nature trails and various resort amenities, including golf courses, tennis, lake swimming and fishing, restaurants, an inn and rental cottages and villas.

Renovation on the butterfly center started in September, with workers adding more tropical plants and doubling the size of the lobby area for movies and lectures.

The dome’s interior is maintained at a constant 84 degrees with 70 percent humidity, an ideal rain forest environment for the inhabitants: 50 to 100 species of butterflies, parrots and other tropical birds and 60 plant varieties.

Callaway produces about 30 percent of the butterflies in-house. The rest come from butterfly farms in the tropical rain forests of Malaysia, the Philippines and Central and South America.

Because the butterflies are exotic species, Callaway set up a system to ensure they don’t escape and harm Georgia’s native populations. When a visitor enters the center, an inward blast of air is shot by a machine at the doorway to prevent any butterfly breakouts.

Nicole Gamble, manager of the butterfly center at Callaway Gardens, near Pine Mountain, Ga., holds a blue morpho butterfly. Callaway's tropical butterfly conservatory reopened recently after a million expansion.

Visitors learn that only moths develop in cocoons; butterflies emerge from chrysalides.

Now that the center has been remodeled, visitors can see workers pinning chrysalides to the roof of emergence boxes in a special area. Butterflies pop open the chrysalides and begin exercising their wings.

Some chrysalides resemble shriveled leaves to provide camouflage during the butterfly’s metamorphosis from an ugly, earth-bound caterpillar to a seemingly carefree, natural wonder that has inspired humans for centuries. Other chrysalides are brightly colored to blend in with tropical plants.

The center, which opened in 1988, is named after Cecil B. Day, founder of the Days Inn motel chain. His widow, Deen Day Sanders, provided the bulk of the $5.3 million to build the center and helped pay for the renovation.

Callaway Gardens and Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center is on Georgia Highway 18 in Pine Mountain, Ga., about an hour southwest of Atlanta.For more information, go to or call (800) CALLAWAY.The center is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Admission for adults is $13; children 6-12, $6.50.

Interest in butterflies has been growing and of the 20 or so centers in the nation, Callaway’s is among the best, said John B. Heppner, chairman of the Association for Tropical Lepidoptera.

“It’s been a tremendous expansion,” Heppner said. “Much of that is due to people watching butterflies, instead of catching them. Some bird watchers are switching to butterflies.”

Callaway also has a garden near the conservatory where people can watch up to 75 species of native butterflies. About 700 of the world’s 20,000 butterfly species are native to North America.