Butterflies, those mystical fluttering embodiments of divine grace and beauty, are back at the American Museum of Natural History. The interactive exhibit, called "The Butterfly Conservatory: Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter," opens to the public tomorrow, but yesterday photographer Katie Sokoler toured the vivarium, which features 500 "iridescent" butterflies floating among blooming tropical flowers and lush green vegetation like some kind of friggin Elysian paradise.

"The Butterfly Conservatory is a joyful, enchanting, and educational exhibition for both children and adults, and truly transports visitors out of their everyday lives into a magical setting teeming with color and flourishing life,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. From the press release:

Visitors interact with butterflies inside a 1,200-square-foot vivarium, a freestanding structure aflutter with activity, while strolling along a winding pathway surrounded by tropical plants and vibrant blossoms including Pentas and Ixora. Powerful halide lamps shine down from the ceiling, simulating the sunlight that streams through a rain forest. Outside the vivarium, visitors can watch through transparent walls as monarchs, zebra longwings, paper kites, and other butterfly species flutter among people and plants.

The conservatory’s butterflies come from farms in Florida, Costa Rica, Kenya, Thailand, Malaysia, Ecuador, and Australia. Featured species include iridescent blue morpho butterflies, striking scarlet swallowtails, large owl butterflies, and beautiful green birdwings. Because the average life span of a butterfly is only two to three weeks, roughly 500 butterfly pupae will be shipped to the Museum weekly for the duration of the exhibit, and the butterflies will be released into the vivarium after emerging. Other pupae hang in a case in the vivarium, giving visitors a firsthand look as adult butterflies emerge from the chrysalis and fly away only hours after adjusting to their new surroundings. Video screens outside the vivarium will also display a short film about this process.

Colorful educational displays outside the vivarium explain the life cycle of butterflies, the worldwide efforts to protect their diverse habitats, and the variety of butterfly species in New York State. Visitors can learn about interesting adaptations, from the colored scales that form butterfly wings’ intricate designs to the intriguing relationships between butterflies and other animal species (monarchs, for example, are toxic to birds).

The exhibit will be on view through May 26th, 2014. Admission is $27 for adults, $16 for children 2-12, and $22 for seniors and students.