Tony Delia. Portrait by Lauren Allen | Photo Illustration by Jynnette Neal.

Tony Delia. Portrait by Lauren Allen | Photo Illustration by Jynnette Neal.

“I pretty much spent my whole childhood chasing butterflies,” says Tony Delia, sitting in his backyard butterfly garden that he built by hand. “It was just a natural thing, chasing down and catching with my hands to play with them.”

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He grew up in Upstate New York, spending his summers at his family’s country house in Long Island. When he was 17, Delia moved to Denver before landing in DFW, decades removed from thinking about the butterflies. He lived in Dallas for about 10 years before he met a guy named Dale Clark.

At the time, Clark was the president of the Dallas County Lepidopterist Society.

Lepidopterist (noun): a person who studies or collects butterflies and moths.

“He was more serious than me as far as technical stuff goes,” Delia explains. “We were talking about butterflies, and I’m like wow, I can’t believe that a grown-up does things with butterflies. How cool is that?”

Inspired, Delia began to pick Clark’s brain about the butterfly-raising process, particularly that of Monarch butterflies. He learned that Monarch butterflies exclusively eat milkweed, a small deciduous plant that grows year-round.

“I asked him where I could go to get milkweed because I wasn’t familiar with it here at all,” Delia recalls. “He told me about a couple of spots, I went there the next day and saw some butterfly eggs and brought them home to raise them.”

Delia hadn’t done anything butterfly-related since his childhood, but suddenly became re-immersed into the hobby that defined much of his upbringing. He took the opportunity to fulfill some childhood dreams.

“When I was a kid, I never actually got to see a butterfly hatch out of chrysalis,” he says.

chrysalis (noun): an idle insect pupa, especially of a butterfly or moth.

The butterfly transitions from egg, to caterpillar, to pupa, before forming a chrysalis and hatching out of it.

‘I’m still fascinated that you have this little green chrysalis and a butterfly is going to come out of there,” he explains. “It’s just sitting there static and all of the sudden it’s a butterfly.”

He put a chrysalis on a small pot and brought it to his workplace as a nail tech.

“I just kept it at my desk and watched and watched,” he says. “I heard a little rustling and there it was crawling out. It was creating so much interest at the salon, I kept them on my desk all the time because I’m still fascinated after 25 years of doing it.”

Delia was hooked again. He began to transform his backyard to accommodate his butterfly raising process. He’s covered every inch of available soil with milkweed, even turning his garage into a 24/7 indoor milkweed propagation room.

“I’ve got a heater and an air conditioner in the garage as a split unit,” he explains. “I put heat in there through the winter and that keeps them fresh.”

Delia says he produces thousands of individual milkweed plants each year to keep his butterflies healthy.

At the end of his backyard, Delia built a 10×20 foot tent that he releases the butterflies into when they hatch in the spring. The interior is coated with flowers and air conditioning to ensure the environment is just right. Recently, he helped Martha Turner Reilly Elementary School create their own in-house garden in the courtyard area.

He now belongs to the Association for Butterflies (AFB) and the International Butterfly Breeders Association (IBBA) and hosts events and pop-up butterfly tents as “The Butterfly Guy.”

“Every time I do an event, there’s always one boy or girl that’s really interested and I always see myself,” he explains. “They want to touch the butterfly just like I did when I was a kid.”

As Delia’s life comes full circle with the butterflies, he hopes that others find the same joy that he’s felt all his life.

“I always like to let people handle so you get a real close-up experience,” he says. “I love sharing my passion.”