The Flying Colors Butterfly Festival offers Atlantans a chance to get up close to the beautiful creatures

The event this year takes place on June 1 and 2

The Flying Colors Butterfly Festival offers Atlantans a chance to get up close to the beautiful creatures
The butterfly encounter offers a chance to be surrounded by butterflies

Photograph courtesy of the Flying Colors Butterfly Festival

The state of Georgia is home to over 160 species of butterfly, from the humble common buckeye (Junonia coenia) to the dramatically striped zebra swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus). Many rely on native plants to survive, and all of them—along with other pollinators, like bees and birds—are threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change. Perhaps no species illustrates the threat to butterflies more than the famous monarch (Danaus plexippus), which has fluttered on and off the endangered species list; it’s currently listed as vulnerable. One of few migratory butterfly species, the monarch population has plummeted by as much as 80 percent over the last two decades; its annual pilgrimage, from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico and back again, has grown increasingly perilous as suburban sprawl and rampant pesticide use destroy more of its en route resting habitats.

Luckily, gardeners can help. “Having a native pollinator garden that monarchs can stop at while they’re migrating and replenish their nectar is something everyone can do,” says Fabiola Clermont, the events supervisor at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. This month, to encourage Georgians to protect the state’s butterflies, the nature center hosts its annual Flying Colors Butterfly Festival (June 1-2, 2024). The festival includes a native plant sale, where gardeners can find butterfly-enticing host and nectar plants. There will also be butterfly-themed entertainment: Returning this year is Alma Mexicana Atlanta, a group that presents traditional dances from Mexico, a country where monarch butterflies hold powerful cultural significance.

Flying Colors is intended to get people of all ages excited about protecting the butterfly species that call Georgia home. It’s one of the Chattahoochee Nature Center’s biggest events, drawing around 2,000 people over two days. Some children arrive with little exposure to nature, fearful of butterflies’ flapping wings. “But you give them that little taste, and they start to become interested,” Clermont explains. “And when you start to care about the little things, you start caring about the big things.”

Of course, the best introduction to the magic of butterflies is to be surrounded by them. Even frightened kids are usually won over by the encounter exhibit, filled with hundreds of flying native specimens. For close-ups, the nature center offers nectar sticks, foam brushes soaked in a butterfly-approved formula. And for the lucky ones, the butterflies will sometimes land directly on hands, arms, or even noses. “Some of us are more blessed than others,” Clermont concedes, though she also offers a pro tip: “They like salt, so if you’re sweaty, they’ll land on you.”

This article appears in our June 2024 issue.