This is a paid piece from the Great Plains Zoo.

Simplified: From community partnerships to tiny sharks, there's a lot you may not know about the Butterfly House and Aquarium. Here's a look at some hidden gems and fun facts to make your next visit even more impressive.

Why it matters

  • The Butterfly House and Aquarium is the only public saltwater aquarium in the Dakotas, as well as one of only a few butterfly houses nationwide that's open year-round.
  • At any given time, there are between 800 and 1,000 butterflies in the conservatory, all of which are non-native species.
  • The goal is conservation. The nonprofit has a number of partnerships to work not only to conserve local species like the Dakota Skipper butterfly, but also to encourage conservation globally by giving people firsthand experience with ocean and rainforest environments.
"If people can connect with an animal, they'll want to preserve the place that animal lives,"Aquarium Director Michelle Coley said.

Hit me with some fun facts.

Ok, buckle up.

Find tiny sharks and tiny sting rays in the aquarium. The aquarium has two female and one male short-tailed nurse sharks in its new "Under the Dock" exhibit – a critically endangered species it hopes to someday be able to breed, Coley said.

  • The larger cownose sting rays outgrew their space in the aquarium exhibit and have been safely moved to a partner aquarium in Oklahoma. In their place, there are now five yellow stingrays, which grow only to about the size of a dinner plate.

Those cute little quail in the butterfly conservatory have an important job. Ever wonder why there are a number of quail running around in the butterfly exhibit? It's because they eat plant pests and help keep plants healthy for butterflies to enjoy.

Team members know their stuff. Everyone on staff at the Butterfly House has college degrees – largely in biology or marine biology, Coley said, and they come from all over. Staff also wear many hats, including designing and building several of the exhibits for animals themselves.

  • Coley herself is from Maryland, studied biology in college, worked with marine life in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, Colorado and the Caribbean before coming to South Dakota three years ago when she saw a job posting for the Butterfly House and Aquarium.  
"I really want kids to realize that there are so many jobs they can do," she said. "And if they love animals, they can do this."

Butterflies come from farms. Butterfly farmers help preserve not only butterflies around the world, but they also help preserve rainforest plants. The Butterfly House works with butterfly farms in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia.

  • The Butterfly House was one of few of its kind that stayed open and continued to support farmers during the pandemic.

What's next for the Butterfly House and Aquarium?


The Butterfly House and Aquarium in the last year has teamed up with the Great Plains Zoo, and in the coming years, butterflies and marine life will be moved to the zoo campus.

  • That will mean a new butterfly conservatory and an expanded aquarium in the future.

What to know before you visit

The Butterfly House and Aquarium is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week.

  • Admission is $14 for adults, $10 for children, $12 for seniors and free for kids under 2.
  • If you have a Monarch membership to the Great Plains Zoo, you can also gain admission to the Butterfly House as part of that membership.

For the safety of the animals, do not bring the following:

  • strollers,
  • outerwear like hoodies, jackets and cardigans,
  • hats,
  • food,
  • sippy cups, bottles or closed containers except for water
  • large purses, backpacks, diaper bags or baby carriers.