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Standing still in a cloud of free-flying butterflies, exploring the depths of a limestone cave, and gazing at the 14-foot bones of a 16,000-year-old Columbian mammoth skeleton—visitors can do all of this in just one afternoon at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Since starting in 1891 as a professor’s teaching collection of fossils, minerals, and human anatomy models, the museum has transformed into the home of more than 40 million specimens, creating a library of life that features one of the world’s largest collections of butterflies and moths.
Reflecting the museum’s impressive collection of winged beauties, some of its exhibits focus on the butterflies and moths that, unlike humans, can survive long flights without eating a single package of peanuts. At the Butterfly Rainforest, more than 1,000 butterflies from 60 to 80 species take to the air among tropical trees, orchids, bromeliads, and waterfalls cascading into a pond that bustles with fish and turtles. Feeding stations with freshly cut fruit dot the 6,400-square-foot screened enclosure, letting guests get up close as the butterflies feast. Live butterfly releases daily at 2 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. let onlookers watch them fly into an outdoor butterfly rainforest, and among the indoor butterfly exhibits, curious audiences can peer into a rearing lab where staff unpack and sort newly arrived pupae.
Rounding out the museum’s focus on Floridian biosystems, the Northwest Florida: Waterways & Wildlife exhibit invites visitors to wander through a full-scale recreation of a hammock forest, and the South Florida exhibit takes guests down the peninsula with a mangrove boardwalk and a palm-thatched Calusa leader’s house. The museum's internationally acclaimed fossil collection includes highlights such as "shark jaw row," extinction dioramas, and full skeletal mounts and sculptures. Meanwhile, outside, petals unfurl in the wildflower and butterfly garden.