Queen Creek donor gives Scottsdale butterfly facility large collection

Posted 2/26/21

Butterfly Wonderland recently received a large, private donation of over 60 preserved butterfly, moth, dragonfly, spider, and other insect specimens from Queen Creek resident Della Johnson.

The …

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Queen Creek donor gives Scottsdale butterfly facility large collection


Butterfly Wonderland recently received a large, private donation of over 60 preserved butterfly, moth, dragonfly, spider, and other insect specimens from Queen Creek resident Della Johnson.

The collection was the prized possession of Della and her late husband, Gary, an amateur entomologist who was passionate about nature. The collection is now on display at Butterfly Wonderland where visitors to the attraction can enjoy them.

Butterfly Wonderland is at 9500 E. Via de Ventura, just east of Scottsdale.

“We’re very happy to accept this incredible and generous gift, donated by Gary and Della Johnson. These framed pieces are works of art and are the perfect complement to Butterfly Wonderland,” said Dee Mangulins, executive director of Butterfly Wonderland. “Being able to display these extraordinary pieces enhances our visitor experience and helps to fill the voracious appetite our guests have to learn all they can about butterflies and other insects. We are absolutely thrilled to be the benefactors of this unique collection.”

The specimens are comprised of multiple species of butterflies, moths and other insects including the gorgeous Helena morpho butterfly, known for its metallic blue and shiny wings; the elephant beetle, which is covered with a coat of fine microscopic hairs; and the empress cicada, the largest cicada in the world with a wingspan that is almost 8-inches long.

This exceptional collection gives guests an opportunity to closely view the intricate anatomies, adaptations, and coloration of these wondrous creatures, according to a press release.

“What’s really great about this collection is that it goes beyond butterflies to show how unique and fascinating other groups of insects can be,” said Derek Kellogg, Butterfly Wonderland entomologist. “All over the world, insects are facing a wide range of challenges and many are suffering serious declines. This collection’s representation of both butterflies and other insects serves as a visible reminder that helping butterflies can help all insects.”

The extensive collection was previously displayed in the Johnsons’ home, where Mr. Johnson was a metal sculpture artist by trade but was an amateur entomologist at heart. All his life he was interested in the beauty of nature and its wonderful creatures, the press release stated.

Drawn to the outdoors and wildlife, Mr. Johnson considered pursuing a career as a forest ranger but was instead called to service with the U.S. Navy and this dream never materialized. However, he would incorporate many elements of entomology into his work, creating pieces modeled after ladybugs, spiders, and butterflies, to name a few.

Years later, during a visit to the Wisconsin State Fair, the Johnsons’ preserved insect collection took root. At the fair, Mr. Johnson was captivated by a collection of insects displayed by a local entomology enthusiast, much like himself. With like-interests, the Johnsons quickly became good friends with the collector who explained he traveled the world to obtain his cherished specimens.

As the relationship developed, the collector also became interested in Mr. Johnson’s metal artwork, and often the two would trade art for framed specimens of butterflies, moths, and dragonflies, etc. Through trade and some purchases, the Johnsons’ personal insect collection eventually grew to more than 60 different displays of various creatures. However, with Mr. Johnson’s passing, Della felt it was time to share their nature collection with a bigger audience.

“After Gary passed away, I wanted this collection — that he treasured — to go where the pieces could be enjoyed by everyone who loves nature as much as he did,” said Mrs. Johnson. “I wanted it to go to Butterfly Wonderland.”

The Della and Gary Nature Collection is now proudly displayed just beyond the Welcome Desk at Butterfly Wonderland, just before the entrance to the “Flight of the Butterflies” 3D movie.

The new display gives guests ample room to peruse the variety of preserved species. The collection is just part of the diverse and exciting offerings at Butterfly Wonderland that include the 3D movie featuring monarch butterflies, the Emergence Gallery where butterflies emerge from their chrysalis, beautiful tropical rainforest birds, fish, reptiles, insects, and the stars of the attraction, thousands of gorgeous butterflies from around the globe fluttering freely in the country’s largest conservatory.

For tickets to visit Butterfly Wonderland or for more information, visit