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Mindful Metamorphosis

Nature focused evenings provide fun, educational outings for Austin youth

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Children’s laughter pierced the summer air with wonder and excitement, as they rushed from table to table squeezing their way in to catch a glimpse of caterpillars, plants and other marvels of nature during a recent event for families at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Hundreds of families attended the Center’s first free Nature Night of the summer on June 21 to learn about the short—yet remarkable—life of butterflies.

First-timer Bridgette Domangue came with her husband Jason and two children: Izzy, age 9, and Jude, age 5.

“We love it. It’s been fun,” Domangue said.  “We did arts and crafts, held some caterpillars and touched a turtle. My kids have really enjoyed it.”

Nature Nights are free evening events that provide fun, engaging ways for families to learn Central Texas nature topics. Held every Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. for four more weeks, they feature topics such as the Power of Plants on July 5, Birds of Prey, Bats and Snakes. Live raptors and snakes will be among the “guests” for future Nature Nights, while live butterflies were on site for the first evening event.

On top of interacting with these fluttering insects, children could also partake in other Nature Night activities.  Some children crafted their own butterflies with center volunteers and gazed at the intricate butterfly origami throughout the Visitors Gallery. Others journeyed through the wildflower gardens on guided hikes to spot live butterflies in their natural habitat.

“H-E-Buddy” and H-E-B representatives were also on site handing out string cheese, apple slices, puzzles and other goodies. H-E-B’s sponsorship has helped to make Nature Nights free for the second consecutive summer.

To take a break from the summer heat, families grabbed refreshments from the Wildflower Café and cooled down in the auditorium as children sang along with “singing zoologist” Lucas Miller.  Miller used an electric guitar to animate his spirited presentations, involving puppets that turned from a caterpillar into a butterfly or a tadpole to a frog. The danger of fire ants and the lifecycle changes of the monarch butterfly (the state insect of Texas) were among the lessons he weaved into his fun-filled stories.

Miller’s puppets weren’t the only ones who underwent change that evening. Young minds were also transformed according to Domangue, who stated that Nature Nights have made her children more aware of their natural surroundings.

 “[Nature Nights] has made them more observant as we go outside. They’re more into finding critters,” Domangue said.

 The interactive events can also be educational opportunities for children according to Wildflower Center member Gouri Johansson, who attended with her three children.

“What they learn about butterflies [at Nature Nights] will certainly impact how they look at butterflies next time they’re in nature,” Johansson said.  “Maybe they will think about the bigger picture and how they can protect nature rather than destroy it.”

Admission into the Center is free the entire day and evening of each Nature Night. For details regarding July Nature Nights, visit http://wildflower.org/nature/.

Story by Matthew Leach; slide show by Julia Bunch.

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