October 13, 2023

Renovated Cockrell Butterfly Center takes flight

A major attraction of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, which is one of the premier institutions in Houston Southeast, is the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

After closing for renovations in September 2022, it has taken flight with new looks and new programs.

Butterflies are insects that start in eggs, grow into caterpillars, then pupas, and finally, the enchanting winged animal that amuses people of all ages.

“Our ‘metamorphosis’ focused on the rainforest conservatory and included replacing all 535 panes of glass, widening, and resurfacing the pathways, and upgrading the lighting,” center manager Lauren Davidson.


“Most patrons cannot tell the difference but the butterflies and plants sure can! The new windows let in additional light, allowing our flora and fauna to flourish in the upgraded exhibit. The new pathways and additional benches also increased accessibility in the exhibit, making it more enjoyable for everyone.”

The center opened in 1994 as part of a $19 million Houston Museum of Natural Science expansion program called “Face of the Future: Phase II.”

It’s a beautiful marvel of design, a three-story glass cone with a sloping roof. According to the American Institute of Steel Construction, a main challenge in the design was creating a structure that used natural sunlight and didn’t endanger butterfly flight plans while still withstanding a Cat 5 hurricane!

The result, completed under a budget of $5.85 million, is a study in architecture and a living rainforest complete with foliage and a 50-foot waterfall. And, of course, the butterflies — 1,500 of them. It can take an hour or two to tour the center as well as the interactive events and educational displays in Brown Hall of Entomology. Strollers aren’t allowed, but the center is wheelchair accessible.

For the protection of the butterflies, visitors are told not to bring in any outside food. And please don’t touch the plants, butterflies, or other animal life forms.

However, do wear brightly colored clothing if you want to attract a few butterflies. Just make sure to check for hitchhikers before you leave the exhibit!

And now you can help the newbies take flight.

“During our reopening, a new program named Flight School was introduced,” said Davidson. “Patrons have the opportunity to take on the role of ‘flight trainers’ as they release a live butterfly into the conservatory, taking its maiden flight. This experience is available daily on a first-come, first-served basis.”

Davidson has been enthralled with the creatures since she was a child and visited the Cockrell Butterfly Center when it first opened. It was this very center that inspired her to become an entomologist, and she has worked here ever since graduating from Texas A&M.


— by Marene Gustin

— photos by HMNS photographer Mike Rathke