Draper • The new butterfly exhibit at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium gives people an “up close and personal” experience with a beloved creature, zoological operations director Steve Vogel says.

And as he spoke Thursday, a painted lady butterfly with perfect timing landed on his chest, spreading its orange and black-spotted wings as it latched onto his shirt.

Vogel clearly got a charge out of nature stepping up to corroborate his claim.

“You should have seen the little kids last night. They were absolutely giddy to have butterflies all around them,” he said, referring to a VIP preview session before Friday’s formal opening of the “Butterfly Experience” exhibit. “There’s 650 all around here.”

The exhibit is a small section of the aquarium’s Journey to South America aviary, with tightly knitted dark netting providing an enclosure to keep the butterflies from flying away (likely to be eaten by aviary birds), while allowing in the heat and humidity of rainforest exhibit.

Dozens clung to a large tree in the enclosure, and every now and then one would float away, bobbing and weaving, to some other plant life before setting down.

“Butterflies like humidity. It makes them more active,” said Hector Castillo, the horticulturist who converts leftover orange slices and bananas from other parts of the aviary into soggy food for the painted ladies and three other types of butterflies that will be mixed in this spring — American lady, red admiral and mourning cloak.

“We want to promote native butterflies,” Castillo said, noting that painted ladies are a migratory species found throughout North America, and on most other continents as well. “We want to promote conservation and to let people know about the habitat degradation affecting these pollinators. They’re big pollinators in our ecosystem.”

Because painted ladies are so widespread, the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service did not have concerns about any butterflies escaping from the facility. But Vogel said the aquarium installed airlocks at the enclosure’s entrance and exit to keep the butterflies inside.

They’re crafty, though, and one attached itself to the back of Vogel’s shirt collar as he tried to leave the enclosure. A helpful visitor pointed out he had “a hitchhiker,” prompting aquarium marketing director Caroline Ralston to lift it off softly by its wings and return the painted lady to its home.

The aquarium at 12033 S. Lone Peak Parkway is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets cost $20 for adults, $17 for teens, students, seniors and the military, and $15 for children. Toddlers 2 and younger are free.