From Coral to Chrysalis – The Sertoma Butterfly Garden and Marine Cove

Flowers and flutterbys and fish, what could be finer?

Jerry and I were in Sioux Falls, South Dakota recently. (House hunting – we’re considering moving to the Mount Rushmore State. Getting tired of paying Minnesota state income taxes, and I am starting to crave an area where I can photograph fine, wide expanses of sky with minimal light pollution.) Since we were staying overnight, rather than heading out, looking at a few places and heading back home in the same day, time to visit the usual sources for Places to Go, Things to Do, and Stuff to See! One of the places that popped up was the Sertoma Butterfly House.

I like butterflies. Okay, I like all insects, really. There’s just something unique and beautiful and fascinating about their shape, the different ways they fly, the sheer variety of them! Better yet, where you find butterflies, you usually have flowers, too. And I really like flowers. I love to admire the blooms, inhale the scents, observe the differences in the kinds of stems, leaves, petals, colors!

Oh, and also take pictures.

Then I found out that the Sertoma House also included fish tanks and a petting pool with sharks and other marine life! The only hesitation on my part was our appointment with the realtor; could I enjoy the butterflies and fish thoroughly enough in an hour and twenty minutes?

We were certainly going to try!

So what’s the story?

The Sertoma Butterfly House and Marine Cove is in a park, and at first as you approach it from the north and east, you’ll see the great grey multi-faceted building standing tall against the trees (yes, they do have trees in parts of South Dakota) that looks like it should be a butterfly garden… And then you drive past it; there’s no way to get to it from where you are. You follow the road, getting more and more puzzled, but faithfully put your trust in your GPS device.

Then you see the signs and turn up a narrow, winding road into the park. And then you find out that the great grey gazebo is actually a park pavilion, and the butterfly house is a smaller reddish-gold building whose spiky architecture somehow reminds you of upswept butterfly wings.

The entrance is of course a double-door entryway system; South Dakota gets cooooooold in the winter, and most of it is pretty windy. It’s a neat little foyer, with a sliding window where you can get your tickets even before you enter the museum proper. You’ll be greeted with an inviting smile and an explanation of how Sertoma is laid out – the Children’s Area (with a tank that has the Upside-down Jellyfish!), the Conservation Area, the petting pools (and they ask you wash your hands in the restrooms first, so impurities and soap residue aren’t introduced into the tanks – that’s particularly bad for the anemones) and the free-flight butterfly area.

And in every place they have folks (mostly volunteers) who stand ready, willing, and wanting to chat and answer your questions! Oh – and in the case of the butterfly garden, to check you for hitchhikers before you head out!

The Marine Cove

Pacific Tide Pool

Marine Cove - the petting pool

Enjoying the sea petting pool


To the right as you pass through the entryway, the very dimness of the area draws your eye. The first petting pool is urchin, sea cucumber, sea stars. Oh, but watch your step; you’re allowed to climb right up to the pool (make sure you’ve rinsed your hands!) but the sculpted stone is tiered so the littler ones can get their heads above the water, too! Behind the petting area is a tank full of color and texture – and some of these anemones can live to be seventy years old!


Stingray and Sharks_mg_1413

They’re almost hypnotic, the way the rays swim, sides rippling and tails fanning out behind. Since this is technically a petting pool, the stingers have been removed from theyse guys, but if you don’t want to step up and touch, there’s plenty of window space to just sit and stare.

Stand-up Bubble Tank!

Bubble aquarium!

Bubble aquarium!

Jerry outside the bubble

Jerry outside the bubble

This one is an absolute beauty! If you don’t know much about aquariums, let me be the first to tell you that maintaining a healthy live coral tank is EXTREMELY hard. Coral are sensitive animals, and require a delicate balance between specific gravity, alkalinity, temperature and several other factors. They also need turbulent water conditions to mimic the movement of the waves and tides. The tanks at Sertoma are healthy, and the people here take great pride in the fact. So crawl through the tunnel and stand up ‘inside’ the tank! See the fish swim and the coral wave… and wave, yourself, at the folks outside!

The Butterfly house

Other visitors!

Other folks enjoying the butterflies!

Here, you’ll find walking pathways , running water, and feeding stations of raw fruit for the butterflies. You have to be quick with your camera – there are literally hundreds of butterflies, and most of them are fluttering around, in search of the next drop of nectar. Following them with the lens is a challenge!

Quail at ease

Quail sitting at ease

Look for the quail, too! There are several moving around, hunting out the ants that the fresh fruit bring in.

And be sure and stop by the Emergence Window! You might be lucky enough to see a butterfly shed its chrysalis – and even if you’re not, you can check out the screened baskets holding the ones which have hatched but haven’t yet taken their first flight!


Sertoma Butterfly House and Marine Cove


4320 S Oxbow Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57106


Monday through Saturday, 10:00 – 5:00; Sunday, 11:00 – 5:00


Adults (age 13-59) $10.00; Seniors (60 +) $9.00; Youths (ages 3-12) $7.00; and anyone younger than three is free!

Contact Information:

Phone, 605-334-9466; email,


\r\ and they also have a Facebook page and Twitter feed!’

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