When George Miller was contracted to build a butterfly conservatory in South Deerfield in 1998, he had no idea he was constructing it for himself.
Soon after its opening, Miller took sole ownership of the facility and created one of the most unique destinations in western Massachusetts: Magic Wings.
After Miller passed in 2017, his children took over the operation and have successfully continued his legacy. Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan traveled to Franklin County to visit this magical butterfly sanctuary and brings us the story.
Learn about some of the other creatures that call Magic Wings home in this digital extra.
This story originally aired on January 13, 2022.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: When George Miller was contracted to build a butterfly conservatory in South Deerfield in 1998, he had no idea he was constructing it for himself.
Soon after its opening, Miller took sole ownership of Magic Wings and created one of the most unique destinations in western Massachusetts. After his passing in 2017, George’s children took over the operation and have successfully continued his legacy.
Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan traveled to Franklin County to visit this magical butterfly sanctuary and brings us the story.
Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: There’s a little stretch of road along Route five in South Deerfield, where whatever season it may be, it’s earmarks are on full display for all those passing through.
This roadside farm stand was shuttered almost as quickly as the first frost’s arrival. Many trees have been stripped bare of their fall foliage, not to return for several months. A tractor rests in seeming suspended animation with nothing left to harvest.
By all indications, it’s late fall in South Deerfield, with winter fast approaching. Unless, of course, we’re inside this building only a few hundred yards away, and here it’s one temperature year round and the countless lepidoptera, or butterflies as us regular folks know them, are living and thriving in it.
Seem too magical to be true? Well, it’s in the name for a reason.
Fred Gagnon, Magic Wings: It’s always summer here. So, we always say instead of going south, go to South Deerfield.
So, we have butterflies flying year-round, rain or shine. We’re temperature controlled, so no matter what the weather is outside, it’s always butterflies flying all day long.
Brian Sullivan: Even the camera lens took a few minutes to adjust to the temperature change, so pardon the steam. But this is the elusive Australian Bird Wing butterfly, one of the largest breeds in the world. And Magic Wings is one of the few places that breeds them in-house.
And, aside from the initial steam, the climate was very nice. Probably best described as a comfortable summer day.
Fred Gagnons: We pretty much mimic the temperature in, like, a tropical rainforest, so the nighttime temperatures are somewhere in the mid-60s to upper-60s, depending on the time of year. The daytime, we shoot for middle-to-upper 70s. But, you know, if the sun comes out, it’s going to be a little bit warmer in there.
It’s always about five to 10 degrees cooler in the summertime because we have a shade cloth to help reduce the temperature a little bit, so it’s not uncomfortable. But in the wintertime, we try to maintain around 75 to 78 degrees
Brian Sullivan: In the conservatory, the butterflies feast on these nectar feeders, and that’s because most of the plants in here are not host plants. The reason for that is they’re not allowed to have the butterflies actually breeding out here.
And that’s a good thing, since caterpillars would destroy the beautiful plant life. Besides, there were already enough butterflies in this room.
How many? The answer is a bit complex.
Fred Gagnon: We raise a lot of butterflies in-house, so we raise about 70 percent of the population. But we import about 70 percent of the diversity, meaning that some of the butterflies we have, we don’t have the host plants for or we can’t breed. S
o, we’ll get five or 10 or 20 in a shipment and we help support farmers and farms in other countries that actually farm butterflies and help save the rainforest, because you need the rainforest to grow butterflies.
So, we probably have about 50 to 60 different species at any given time, and probably about three to four thousand butterflies flying.
Brian Sullivan: The butterflies may receive the lion’s share of the attention, but visitors are also welcome to take a look at some neat reptiles and some exotic creepy crawlies. For some, these are the most interesting creatures on earth, while others may find the quickest exit.
Luckily, this one leads directly to the butterfly conservatory, and for anyone passing through these doors for the first time, the experience is a bit surreal.
Well, I can add this to the list of things I’ve never seen before. Not only that, but in my entire life, I don’t think I’ve ever had a butterfly actually land on me. And just a few minutes ago, I think I had about 10 all over me. It’s really pretty fascinating.
This eight thousand square foot building wasn’t always this big. In fact, when it first opened, it was half this size. It’s also entirely possible that none of this would be here at all, had George Miller not taken this on as a construction project back in 1998 before eventually being talked into partnering in this business.
George passed away in 2017, but his children have since carried on the legacy of this butterfly oasis in South Deerfield.
Fred Gagnon, Magic Wings: It started out with two people, and some things went went awry a little bit in the beginning, and he kind of stepped in. And he pretty much threw a lot of his savings and everything into it, and he believed it was going to become something.
And I bet the family probably thought he was pretty, pretty silly for wanting to go into a butterfly business, but it took off like a rocket. I mean, it did really well, and thanks to the family, they got it moving.