Walk through a butterfly house and you'll feel like you're peeking into a world usually only seen on a nature show. Butterflies of various sizes, colors and patterns flit from flower to flower. Others perch gracefully on limbs and stems.
"They're everywhere, they're so huge," squeals Jessica Cohen, 9, of North Patchogue, as she glances around the Island's largest vivarium at the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in Riverhead. She squeals again as one lands on her shoulder.
"It is so magical," adds mom Jen Cohen, looking over at butterflies that range from an inch or so across to giants with an 8-inch wingspan.
These vivariums are designed to house butterflies and moths in environments that mimic their natural habitats:
431 E. Main St., Riverhead
INFO 631-208-9200, longislandaquarium.com
NO. OF BUTTERFLIES Up to 2,000
MOST UNUSUAL VARIETIES The iridescent Common Blue Morpho; the 8-inch-wide Giant Atlas Moth, whose wingtips look like the head of a snake; the brilliant green Luna Moth; and the green-and-black Banded Peacock.
Visitors can walk ground-level paths, or stand on the overhead observation bridge for a bird's-eye view of the upper canopy of exotic plants and trees where some butterflies go to rest between feedings.
"I kept asking how to get one to land on me," says Candace Fedele, 23, of Holtsville, who climbed the stairs to the observation level. Perched on one hand is a 3-inch-tall Owl Butterfly, which has a large, round spot and markings on each wing that look like peering owl eyes. "And, I come up here and this giant one . . . just plopped down on me. It's creeping me out, but is sort of cool, too."
Suffolk County Farm and Education Center
INFO 631-852-4600, ccesuffolk.org/butterfly-house
NO. OF BUTTERFLIES 75-150
MOST UNUSUAL VARIETIES Striped Zebra Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail
This outdoor vivarium that houses all native species is a lot like sitting in someone's flower-filled backyard. Because it has larvae host plants, visitors may also see mating butterflies, eggs, caterpillars and chrysalis.
"You can get so close to them here," says Pat Bridgwood, 56, of Medford, who was accompanied on a recent weekday by granddaughters Kaylee, 5 1/2, and Jamie, 2. "In the yard, they fly away as soon as the girls walk toward them."
62 Eckernkamp Dr., Smithtown
INFO 631-979-6344, sweetbriarnc.org
ADMISSION $3 ($2 younger than 12)
NO. OF BUTTERFLIES 150-200
MOST UNUSUAL VARIETIES Green-and-black striped Malachites; striped Zebra Longwings; and the swift-flying Spicebush swallowtails, which are difficult to get a good look at in the wild.
Open since 1997, this is Long Island's oldest butterfly house. It hosts native and nonnative North American species. While 20 species call Sweetbriar home, expect to see about 10 species during a visit, says program coordinator Nancy Adornetto.
475 W. Main St., Huntington
INFO 631-549-4515, mainstreetnursery.com
NO. OF BUTTERFLIES 100
MOST UNUSUAL VARIETIES Black-and-white-striped Zebra Longwings, tiny, pastel-colored Julias and Buckeyes
This small enclosure has at least six species feasting on native plants. It is designed to show Long Islanders plants that will help attract butterflies to their backyards.
3 tips for visiting
1. Watch where you step -- butterflies often land on the floor to rest.
2. Don't try to touch or catch the inhabitants, who have tiny scales on their wings that are easily injured. But, if one lands on you, that's OK.
3. Wear bright colors (reds, oranges and yellows).