Special exhibit gets attention as Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s outdoor areas reopen to general public
Visitors lined up outside the entrance of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History on Wednesday morning, as it reopened its outdoor areas to the general public for the first time since closing in March.
Though it reopened to paying members last month as a way of thanking them for supporting the museum, Wednesday’s guests were its first nonmember visitors since COVID-19 restrictions started in the spring.
According to museum president and CEO Luke Swetland, the museum initially planned on reopening all of its sections and its Sea Center on Stearns Wharf, but the recent spike in COVID-19 cases led Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue an order that required museums to close indoor spaces.
Sections of the Museum of Natural History currently open include its Sukinanik’oy Chumash Ethnobotanic Garden, Museum Backyard, five-acre oak woodland and the Sprague Butterfly Pavilion housing one of its most popular exhibits, “Butterflies Alive.”
“Butterflies Alive” contains more than 1,000 butterflies from a dozen different species like swallowtails, longwings, Monarchs, and for the first time since 2014, Malachites. Calling butterflies a “gateway drug to the natural world” that everyone enjoys, Mr. Swetland told the News-Press that watching butterflies in the pavilion is the “highlight” at the museum during the summer months.
“Everybody loves butterflies. They’re just amazingly beautiful, it’s very contemplative to watch them, especially when there’s more than a thousand of them fluttering around … So every summer when we do ‘Butterflies Alive,’ it’s hugely popular,” he said.
Each week, the museum receives between 200 and 300 butterflies in its chrysalides, which are then hot-glued to an emergence chamber until the insects emerge. After that, the butterflies are put into a mesh bag and released in the pavilion.
Under normal circumstances, museum guests would be able to see the chrysalides develop behind a special window in the museum’s indoor galleries. In the meantime, however, the Museum of Natural History is sharing videos of the butterfly-raising process on its social media accounts and YouTube channel. Also, pavilion manager Kim Zsembik has started an Instagram account @butterflywrangler, which features facts about butterflies and photographs from inside the pavilion.
In addition to “Butterflies Alive,” the museum is continuing to feature owls and hawks in its backyard area.
“Every one of those birds was injured, so badly injured that they can never be rereleased into the wild. So they will live out their lives here, but really as ambassadors,” Mr. Swetland said.
In light of the pandemic, the museum has adopted health and safety protocols to keep guests safe, which according to a news release include hand washing and hand sanitizing stations throughout the outdoor areas, one-way flow for foot traffic throughout the museum to allow social distancing, and online reservations for attendance to limit the number of guests at the museum at one time.
Currently open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the museum takes online reservations from up to 80 visitors for hour-long blocks of time. Those who make reservations can come to the museum anytime within the hour they sign up for and stay at the museum for as long as they wish.
Tickets to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History can be purchased at sbnature.org.