How long do the butterflies live?
Most of the tropical species at the Butterfly Farm live 2 to 5 weeks, though there are exceptions. For example, the adult Giant Atlas Moth lives only about 10 days. This is because it has no mouth and relies upon the food stored in its large fat body to sustain it long enough to find a mate and so produce a new generation. Other exotic butterflies can live much longer, for example, the Heliconius butterflies of South America can live for 6 months or so, as a result of their unique ability to digest pollen as a food source, which is very nutritious.
Some butterflies, our own native species in particular, can hibernate through the winter period, and so may live a lot longer than might otherwise be expected.
What do butterfly’s eat?
Most of our beautiful butterflies feed on nectar that they collect from the flowers. Butterflies can only feed on liquid material that they suck up through a long hollow tube called a proboscis. As you walk through the Butterfly Farm this can be easily observed and studied in detail.
Some butterflies, for example, the Owl butterflies from South America pictured above, enjoy rotting fruit, and you will see several sources of fruit placed throughout the Butterfly Farm for them. They seem to enjoy bananas and pineapple the most. A common sight in the autumn in our orchards are colourful butterflies like Red Admirals and Peacocks feeding off the fallen fruit, and from time to time when we have native species on the wing at the Butterfly Farm, rotten apples are provided for them.
As already explained the Heliconid butterflies from South America have the unique ability to digest pollen that they collect from the plants using a special enzyme. This pollen is broken down into liquid form by the enzyme so that they can feed on it in the normal way.
Again with careful observation, it is often possible to see the pollen collected on the insects for yourself. Other butterflies feed on a wide variety of materials from manure to rotting meat, but all require water and minerals, and it's often possible to see the butterflies drinking from wet stones or gravel, or from the bottom of leaf stems. One difficulty at the Butterfly Farm is how to feed all these insects at times of the year when the flowers are not in bloom, or when there are not enough natural nectar sources to satisfy the demand of the large number of insects at a particular time. This is overcome using artificial feeders made from brightly coloured plastic pan scourers, which you will see at various points on the Butterfly Farm. The saucer is filled with a honey and water solution, and when attracted by the bright colour and smell of the liquid, the butterflies land on die pan scourers and feed.
This feeder is also sometimes used as a butterfly hospital, and sick or injured butterflies can be fed here artificially. This is done by carefully uncurling the proboscis with a pin and dipping it into the water and honey solution, so encouraging the insect to feed. Very often the butterfly will revive after a few minutes and fly away.