Waiting in the wings
A midlife crisis led to a thriving fair attraction for Butterfly House owners Jane Breckinridge and David Bohlken.
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A midlife crisis can involve activities as minor as getting a tattoo or buying a motorcycle or as major as changing careers.
Count Jane Breckinridge in the latter camp. She went from vice president of circulation for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine to raising butterflies.
Breckinridge and her husband, David Bohlken, inherited a Christmas tree farm in Luck, Wis., from Bohlken’s parents about 20 years ago. The farm contained acres of milkweed, the host plant for monarch butterflies. For a while, the couple sold butterflies for release at weddings. One day a friend suggested they start a butterfly house, one place in the world butterflies and humans can interact, Breckinridge says.
Bohlken loved the idea. So the couple secured a tent at the Minnesota State Fair. In 2006, the Butterfly House attained a building at the fair.
A neighbor vendor at the fair suggested that the couple go to the provincial fair in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada — Capital EX. From there, the Butterfly House continued to grow.
This year alone, the Butterfly House will have traveled to seven different events, including the Tulsa State Fair and Oklahoma State Fair.
The couple now lives southeast of Bixby, near Leonard, where they raise butterflies that are indigenous to Oklahoma, such as the monarch and painted lady. They also raise some butterflies in western Wisconsin. Planting host plants, such as milkweed for monarchs, helps attract and feed the butterflies.
The Butterfly House imports about 90 percent of its butterflies from countries around the world, including Costa Rica, Philippines and El Salvador, as well as the continent of Africa.
Breckinridge says a special USDA permit is required to obtain the butterflies, and she works with local family farms worldwide to acquire them.
“We contract with small family farms and help them to make sustainable wages,” Breckinridge says.
The butterflies are actually shipped as chrysalid. At the Butterfly House, visitors will see the chrysalids in USDA-approved birthing centers as they metamorphose into butterflies.
The Butterfly House contains up to 5,000 butterflies, including the unusual blue morpho and giant owl varieties. The blue morpho butterfly is nearly the size of a human hand and has iridescent blue coloring. The giant owl mimics nature; when its wings are shut, it looks like an owl, Breckinridge says.
This is the second year the Butterfly House has appeared at the Tulsa State Fair. In 2010, it won the fair’s award for most interactive display.
Breckinridge says bringing the Butterfly House to people is a joy.
“It’s an opportunity you cannot experience anywhere else,” she says. “(I am) glad to bring the experience to the people.”
The Tulsa State Fair continues through Oct. 9. Gate admission prices range from $6-$10 and admission is free for children under age 5. Admission to the Butterfly House is $3 per person.
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