In April 2007, the doors opened on a brand new conservatory in the state of Texas. One might assume that a facility like this would be located in the highly populated Dallas/Ft.Worth Metroplex, Austin, San Antonio, or Houston, but such is not the case. The 6,000 sq. ft. Ruby Priddy Butterfly Conservatory is the crown jewel of Riverbend Nature Center in Wichita Falls. Our city of modest proportion (no daily traffic jams) has long been considered the hub of what we proudly refer to as Texoma. Located just south of the Red River, Wichita Falls is one of the major crossroads into Oklahoma and westward to the Panhandle. What sets the Ruby Priddy Butterfly Conservatory apart is the exclusive use of local native plants, animals, fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and of course butterflies. There is not another butterfly conservatory in Texas (indeed, in the entire U.S.) that does not sport tropical environments or at best a mix of foreign and domestic plants. It was decided early on that our conservatory would celebrate the flora and fauna of the Rolling Plains and Western Cross Timbers. As such, it has a greater value to local students of nature, old and young alike. The conservatory, which was built into a hillside, begins with a stroll through short grass and mixed grass prairies, then falls gently through the sandstone escarpments of the Cross Timbers, winding up with riparian environments at the lower end. Our small pond (or large aquarium if you prefer) is stocked with local fish species and has become one of the favorite displays. Along the pathway you will find models of various birds, reptiles, and four legged creatures, each in their preferred habitat. Each habitat has its own kiosk which explains life above and below ground through the seasons. And of course, lots of butterflies!! On any given day you will be greeted by hundreds of butterflies representing 20 different species that live in or migrate through North Central Texas. Most of the butterflies are ordered in chrysalis form and kept in a glass case so we can observe as they morph into one of Nature’s most interesting creatures. Other butterflies have taken up permanent residence to live out their life cycles inside the conservatory. Martha Davis, exhibits curator and NPSOT member, has found it a constant struggle to keep the larvae supplied with host plants. Hundreds of caterpillars confined in a small area can consume plenty of vegetation in short order! Besides the butterflies and fish, Martha and the Riverbend staff continue to add other live critters to the displays. This past year she included a bullfrog, tarantula, an Amarillo lizard, rough green snake, king snake, and (everybody’s favorite) a black chin hummingbird. The latest additions are bobwhite quail. Doubtless Martha will continue to expand on local flora and fauna as time goes by.
June 24, 2010
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