Where do they come from?
Currently, the Butterfly House gets butterflies from Asia and Africa, and the North, South, and Central Americas. We receive between 350 and 400 chrysalids (butterfly pupae) every week from butterfly farms and brokers. At these farms, the butterflies are carefully bred and their eggs raised into hungry caterpillars. The picky caterpillars are fed their appropriate host plants (Monarchs eat only milkweeds, Blue Morphos eat plants in the pea family, etc.) until they are ready to become a chrysalis. The farm workers then set aside some of the chrysalids to become the next generation of breeders, while the rest are carefully packed in cotton or styrofoam trays and shipped express to butterfly houses around the world. Depending on the time of year, farms can be raising anywhere from a handful to tens of species at a time. At any given time, the Butterfly House has between 60 and 80 species flying around in the garden.
Then what happens?
When our shipments arrive, they are taken into a contained room and all the chrysalids are carefully inspected by our Curator. They are then hung on foam-covered rods and are placed in our emergence chamber, where they continue developing from a caterpillar to an adult butterfly, and where customers might be able to see a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis if they are lucky enough to come at just the right moment. When a butterfly emerges, its body is swollen with fluid and its wings are tiny and folded up inside the chrysalis. The struggle of coming out of the chrysalis starts the flow of fluid from the body into the veins of the wings, filling them in much the same way a raft is inflated. For at least a half hour after the wings have filled out they are still wet and must be completely dry before the butterfly can fly. The butterfly continues to hang upside down from it’s empty chrysalis case until its wings are completely dry. The butterflies in our nursery emerge throughout the day, every day. Once they are ready to fly they are carefully transported from the emergence chamber to the garden and released for your enjoyment.
Butterflies have an average life span of 2 weeks. This does not mean that some butterflies don’t live longer than that, it just means that most of the species that we buy live approximately that amount of time. This is the reason that we have to purchase from 350 to 400 chrysalis, or pupae, every week – as the butterflies in the garden have lived their full life span, we are constantly replacing them with newly emerged species.
Ready to Fly!
In our garden, the butterflies act just as they would in the wild. They fly from flower to flower drinking nectar, collect on our plates of overripe banana slices to drink the juices, stretch out on a leaf to bask in the sun, defend their territories from other butterflies, and mate. Although butterflies do mate in our garden, the females will not lay their eggs unless they find the host plant their species needs as a cateripllar (ex: Monarchs won’t lay their eggs if there is no milkweed to be found). We are very careful to not plant any host plants in our garden, so our female butterflies never lay their eggs. Raising caterpillars in the garden is prohibited by the USDA since almost all of our butterflies are foreign, and they must be carefully controlled and contained so that they don’t pose a threat to the outside environment.