Key West's Nature Attractions
Key West is known for its eclectic festivals, famous writers and water adventures. But for those who love nature and don’t want to get wet, visit these 4 attractions where you can view birds, barracudas butterflies and even a pond full of sharks.
The kid-friendly attraction lets visitors watch caterpillars turn into majestic butterflies. Educational displays explain and show the metamorphosis. A butterfly’s life is short, like a flower’s, at just 2 weeks or so. Only 6 species mate at the conservancy --all the others arrive as chrysalis in weekly shipments from more than 10 tropical countries around the world. Once they hatch, the new butterflies join the garden party that also includes 35 species of exotic birds. The best time to go is when the sun is shining bright and the butterflies are most active.
Now, the elegant home of American Classic Revival architecture -- but no running water -- is filled with the work of John James Audubon. In 1832, Audubon came to Key West and painted 2 White-crowned Pigeons on the cut branches of a Geiger tree, which he received permission to take from the Geiger property. The watercolor painting is featured in Audubon’s famed book Birds of America, but Audubon never stepped foot in the current house. It was built in 1846 after a hurricane destroyed Capt. Geiger’s original home. The second home was almost destroyed, too -- by bulldozers. In the late 1950s, Key West native Col. Mitchell Wolfson and his wife, Frances, saved the historical treasure from demolition and turned it into today’s museum now run by their family’s non-profit foundation.
Educational videos and displays explain that corals are alive and that the nearby coral reefs are the “rainforests of the ocean.” The aquarium is home to sea horses, jellyfish, clownfish, rooster hogfish, great barracudas, spiny lobster and the “great invaders,” pretty but dreaded lionfish that wreak havoc on the Atlantic and Caribbean marine ecosystems. Most of the marine creatures are easy to see in small display tanks, which line several ponds where stingrays, sharks and sea turtles swim. Kids love the interactive pond where they can pick up shells and find squirming crabs and other critters inside -- and smile to the overhead webcam for friends and family watching back home.
The terrestrial habitats showcase the upland pinelands, hardwood hammocks, beach dunes and mangrove shorelines. A 74-seat theater shows “Reflections of the Florida Keys,” a 20-minute movie by renowned filmmaker Bob Talbot. In this beautiful video, he documents how the underwater world is connected with life on land and in the air. While this Smithsonian-quality center is off the beaten path at the Truman Waterfront, it’s worth the effort to discover.