The Butterfly Conservatory

Emerald Swallowtail

Emerald Swallowtail

We left Lake Erie on Thursday and had an uneventful drive back to Cambridge. On Friday it rained, but Deb and I met my sister-in-law Terra and her family that morning and went to the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory, a marvelous place to visit any time of year. The Conservatory, formerly known as Wings of Paradise, usually has 2,000 to 3,000 butterflies flying at any given time. They get their butterflies from breeding farms in Costa Rica and the Philippines; these are delivered to the Conservatory as pupae and are reared within a special room within the conservatory. Butterfly farming is a sustainable form of agriculture and is beneficial in that it ensures that natural populations are not depleted from their native habitat.

The Conservatory maintains a temperature between 24°C to 28ºC with 80% humidity. A good-sized waterfall drains into a long pond where colourful fish and turtles swim freely.

Waterfall

Waterfall

One of the first butterflies I saw was the stunning Blue Morpho. This large butterfly typically perches with its wings closed, hiding the bright iridescent blue of the upper side of its wings. The underside is brown with several large eye spots which provide camouflage and protects them from predators.

Blue Morpho (Central/South America)

Blue Morpho (Central/South America)

The Blue Morpho has a wing span of 13-20 cm which makes it one of the largest butterflies in the world. It lives in the rain forests of Central and South America where it is usually found in the understory resting on the forest floor or down low on trees and shrubs. They may also sun themselves in the tree tops as this one was doing; I had to stand on a bench in order to photograph it! Adults usually live for only two weeks.

Blue Morpho (Central/South America)

Blue Morpho (Central/South America)

The Asian Swallowtail is another large butterfly, but this one occurs in Southeast Asia. Males and females have different colours; in biology this is called sexual dimorphism. Males, such as the one shown below, have a bluish-black dorsal wing surface with faint white striping on the hindwing. Females have a pale yellow dorsal forewing surface with black veins and edging, and a triangular red spot at the base of each wing. I didn’t see any females, though I saw another male with a damaged wing.

Asian Swallowtail (Southeast Asia)

Asian Swallowtail (Southeast Asia)

My favourite butterfly was the Emerald Swallowtail, also known as the Banded Peacock or Emerald Peacock. It is easy to see where this species gets its name; while the upper side has a bright green band running across its greenish-black wings, the underside is mainly black with orange and white spots along the hindwing edges. The Emerald Swallowtail is native to the forests of southeast Asia.

Emerald Swallowtail (Southeast Asia)

Emerald Swallowtail (Southeast Asia)

The conservatory puts out plates of fruit for butterflies which do not depend solely on the nectar of flowers. This Great Orange Tip, a butterfly that can be found in both the grasslands and rainforests of southern Asia, was the only species I saw feeding on the fruit.

Great Orange Tip (Southeast Asia)

Great Orange Tip (Southeast Asia)

Although the upper side of its wings are boldly coloured with white and orange, the underside is a drab brownish-white. These butterflies perch on the ground with their wings closed, hiding the brilliant orange markings, and resembling nothing more than a dead leaf. I found one near the pond, and although stood out on the rock, you can see how well camouflaged it would be amongst windblown leaves on the forest floor.

Great Orange Tip (Southeast Asia)

Great Orange Tip (Southeast Asia)

Above the plates of food were small moats full of water to prevent ants from getting into the fruit. I found one unlucky butterfly struggling for its life in one of the moats, and couldn’t leave it to its fate despite the signs warning visitors not to touch the butterflies. I put my finger in the water beneath the butterfly’s legs and waited for it to climb up onto my finger. Then I held my hand out and waited for it to fly away. It only went as far as Terra’s shirt, where it spent a good ten minutes drying off! Interestingly enough, this species is known as the Tarracina, and it is relatively uncommon in Central and South America.

Tarracina (Central/South America)

Tarracina (Central/South America)

The Clipper is an unusual butterfly in that the stripes of its wings cross the abdomen, making it look like a cross between a wasp and a butterfly! It comes in two colour forms, a brown form and a blue form; although the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory has both, I only saw the brown form. Clippers are found in rainforests, often near rivers, in South and Southeast Asia. They have a distinct flight which alternates shallow and rapid flight with periods of gliding.

Clipper (Brown form – Southeast Asia)

The Doris also has more than one colour form. All three colour forms have black forewings with two white patches. The hindwings are black, with a patch which may be blue, red, or green. The Doris occurs from Central America to the Amazon where they are often found in forest clearings.

Doris (red form – Central & South America)

The Golden Birdwing was one of the more striking butterflies. A native of the Philippines, the birdwing is named for its birdlike flight, exceptional size, and its angular wings which sometimes show feather-like patterns. While the underside of the abdomen is bright yellow, the rest of the body is black.

Golden Birdwing (Southeast Asia)

Golden Birdwing (Southeast Asia)

The Rice Paper butterfly is common in the lowland rainforests and coastal mangrove forests of Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines. Also known as Paper Kites or Tree Nymphs, these large, striking butterflies have translucent white wings patterned with black streaks and spots which warn predators that they are poisonous.

Rice Paper (Southeast Asia)

The Small Postman is closely related to The Postman. Both species are common and widespread throughout Central and South America and can only be differentiated by the length of the yellow line on the underside of the hindwing. This line extends to the margin of the wing on the Small Postman (H. erato), whereas it does not on the Postman (H. melpomene).

Small Postman (Central & South America)

The Conservatory is also home to many exotic bird species from around the world, none of which feed on living insects! Not only do these birds add to the tropical atmosphere of the conservatory, they also help keep the grounds tidy. When asked about the quail I had seen, one of the staff told me that it feeds on pieces of butterfly wings from deceased insects (we had seen more than a few in our walk around the conservatory).

Common Quail

I am not sure what these two birds are, but they (or another pair) had built a messy stick nest on one of the wooden posts that extend to the ceiling.

The Green-cheeked Conure, also called the Green-cheeked Parakeet, originally comes from South America. It lives in forests and woodland, where it usually forms flocks of 10 to 20 individuals. It is becoming popular in the pet trade.

Green-cheeked Conure (Southeast Asia)

Green-cheeked Conure (Southeast Asia)

Spending a couple of hours at the Butterfly Conservatory was an excellent way to spend a rainy morning, and it was great to see Terra and her family again. This was our last nature outing of the trip, and a fun one at that.

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3 thoughts on “The Butterfly Conservatory

  1. Great series of pix. The Golden Birdwing is my favorite, that yellow is so bright it reminds me of a firefly! Definitely somewhere I’d like to go with camera in hand. Does much sunlight get in, or is it artificial light?

    I’ll bet the folks on BirdForum could tell you what the mystery bird is if you posted it.

    • Thanks Suzanne. Yes, there are skylights so on sunny days it is very bright in there!

      I have posted photos from the conservatory to Birdforum in the past, but was told they don’t allow photos of captive birds. The conservatory does have a list of all the birds and butterflies they have, but those two birds don’t seem to be on it. I guess I’ll never know for certain, but that’s okay!

  2. Thanks so much for posting these. I would love to see butterflies that beautiful in person. And, now I know there’s a butterfly named after my girlfriend. Or possibly the other way around.

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