History and Background

Initial Construction

The Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, named after the founder of Days Inns of America, Inc., opened to the public on September 25, 1988.  In honor of her late husband (1934-1978) and because of her life-long interest in butterflies, Mrs. Deen Day Sanders provided the initial funding for the Center.  Mrs. Sanders approached Hal Northrop, Callaway Gardens’ chief executive officer in the early 1980’s with her idea that a butterfly center would be perfect at Callaway Gardens.  They spent several years negotiating because Mr. Northrop was initially skeptical.  Finally after Mrs. Sanders took several Gardens managers to a butterfly center in Europe, it was agreed upon and plans to build the Day Butterfly Center began.

In 1988, there were less than 10 butterfly centers in the entire world and of the 3 operating in the United States the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center was the largest.  The technology, design, and utilities were state-of-the-art, all custom manufactured to meet the environmental requirements of tropical butterflies.  The conservatory is 7300 square feet and over 40 feet high at its highest and completely enclosed by 1084 panes of glass.   Today, there are over 60 butterfly centers in the United States alone and yet the Day Butterfly Center remains one of the largest.


The original design team for the Day Butterfly Center consisted of:

Project Director William E. Barrick, Ph. D.
Executive VP & Director of Gardens, Callaway Gardens
Designing Architect Henri C. Jova
Jova/Daniels/Busby, Atlanta, GA
Landscape Architect Robert E. Marvin
Robert E. Marvin and Associates, Walterboro, SC
General Contractor West Point Construction
West Point, GA
Environmental Engineers Arthur D. Brock
Nottingham, Brook & Pennington, Inc., Macon, GA
Interior Decorator Virginia F. White
Virginia F. White Interiors, Atlanta, GA


The Renovation

In 2004/2005, the Center underwent a substantial renovation in order to make the Center more comfortable for our many guests and to update our compliance with USDA regulations.  The renovation included the addition of a containment laboratory, an enlarged gift shop, widened paths and walkways, a new landscape, new interpretation, and the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification (LEED) awarded by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).  LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building, home, or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.


The renovation design team for the Day Butterfly Center consisted of:

Project Director Jim McDaniel
Director of Gardens Services, Callaway Gardens
Principal Architect Stanley L. Daniels
Jova/Daniels/Busby, Atlanta, GA
Mechanical Contractor Richard L. Dustin
McKinney’s, Atlanta, GA
General Contractor Langford Construction Company
Newnan, GA


The Transformation Station


Between the lobby and the conservatory, guests pass by the Transformation Station.  In this short hallway, guests can see into the emergence cabinets with the laboratory behind the curtain.


The Laboratory

The lab, required by the USDA, is a place to unpack, process, and monitor butterfly shipments imported to the Day Butterfly Center from all over the world.  Because of concerns about possibility of exotic parasites and diseases being transferred to native butterfly populations and introducing new crop pests, butterfly shipments are unpacked using stringent protocols outlined by the USDA.  Each chrysalis is identified, counted, recorded, and inspected for disease or parasites before being transferred to an emergence cabinet.

Some of the operations of the lab are visible to the guests.  This helps to develop an understanding of the differences between exotic and native butterflies.


The Emergence Cabinets

These holding cases are where butterfly chrysalids are carefully hung to complete metamorphosis and emerge as butterflies.  They are designed so guests can view and enjoy the chrysalids, possibly even viewing a butterfly emergence, before entering the conservatory.  Access inside the emergence cabinets is possible only from within the laboratory.

Upon emergence, the butterfly will hang from the pupa case (or exuvia) as its wings unfold and dry.  This process takes from 15 minutes to over 3 hours, depending on the size and species of the butterfly.  Once butterflies are completely dry, they are carefully removed from the emergence cabinet and released into the conservatory.


The Conservatory


The conservatory is where adult butterflies are set free to fly and guests have the opportunity to walk among them.  The environment in the conservatory is maintained to the specifications best for the butterflies, including tropical conditions of 80°Fahrenheit and 74% relative humidity as well the tropical plants providing the tropical experience or nectar for the butterflies.



The conservatory is a USDA regulated containment facility where removal of butterflies is prohibited.  There is a penalty of $25,000 or up to 9 years in prison for removing butterflies from the center.  Host plants (food plants for caterpillars) are prohibited in the conservatory by the USDA.  Although host plants are an important part of the butterfly life cycle, they are not found inside the DBC conservatory.  This is why only adult butterflies, and not caterpillars, are on display.  The reasons for this are (1) caterpillars are very small when they hatch and could escape through tiny crevices in the structure of the building and (2) caterpillars hold on tight and could easily ride out on a guest or team member without being detected or blown away by the air curtains on the doors.


Our Butterflies

The number of butterflies in the conservatory may fluctuate slightly throughout the year with goal of 2,000 year round.  The number of species varies from 50 to over 100; with over 400 species that we are permitted to import, the specific mix of species is different every week.  The details and a complete species list are usually available at the desk in the lobby.

Our butterflies come from farmers in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Kenya, the Philippines, and Malaysia.  They represent all the major tropical regions of the world: Central/South America, Central Africa, and Southeast Asia/Australia.


The Plants

The flora inside the conservatory consists of over 100 species of tropical plants.  The larger shade trees and non-blooming tropical herbaceous species give the feeling of a rainforest.  The brilliant, flowering nectar plants provide food for the butterflies and  give the guests the opportunity to see the butterflies up close watching them feed.


Outside Native Butterfly Gardens


Surrounding the Day Butterfly Center are gardens containing plants especially chosen for their benefits to native butterflies.  They attract thousands of butterflies each year with their composition of both nectar sources and host plants.  The host plants are plants on which the female butterfly will lay eggs and emerging caterpillars will eat while the nectar plants are those whose flowers are visited by adult butterflies.  These gardens provide an example to guests wanting to create their own butterfly gardens and they provide an opportunity for guests to see butterfly eggs and larvae.

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