Behind the scenes of the butterfly conservatory

BY DEEANNA ROLLINS

The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory is a beautiful place to go and visit, full of anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 colourful butterflies, turtles, finches, doves, quail and an eight-year-old parrot named Cheecho.

Most, if not all, of those butterflies are completely new as of two weeks ago. And by the time this is printed, there will be a whole new set of butterflies. This is because the average butterfly only lives six to eight weeks. However, some live up to five months long.

Andalyne Tofflemire, a naturalist at the conservatory, has been studying butterflies since she was a child. She had a large open backyard and was always interested in the wildlife that she would find.

“You’d be surprised how little people know about bugs,” said Tofflemire. “A butterfly lives a very short lifespan, and most people seem to think they live forever.”
When a butterfly lays an egg and it hatches into a caterpillar, it is only in that stage of life for approximately two weeks. From there it starts its transition into becoming a butterfly. It is then in its chrysalis for another two weeks. When the butterfly starts to “hatch,” they hang onto their chrysalises for anywhere from two to eight hours, depending on the size of the butterfly.

Once the wings of the butterfly dry, it flies off. The insect lives for anywhere from two weeks to four months.

“Because the butterflies have such a short lifespan, we have to order butterflies by the thousands,” said Tofflemire.

On March 3, an order of 850 butterflies in chrysalises, that were brought by plane from Costa Rica, were being glued onto sticks so that they could be put on display so people
could watch them hatch.

Each of those 850 butterflies cost the conservatory between 50 cents and $3, and as high as $5, depending on the species.

However, the biggest expense isn’t the butterflies, it’s the heating. The inside of the conservatory needs to be at a resting temperature of 24 C to 28 C; and in the Canadian winters, heating a 10,800-sq.-ft. tropical garden means an expensive hydro bill.

In the conservatory, the butterflies mainly come from butterfly farms in the Philippines and Costa Rica, where the annual average temperatures are anywhere from 21 to 30 C.

Most of the other bugs and insects, like the jungle nymphs and thorny devils, are from Malaysia, where the average annual temperature is 27.5 C.

The plants in the conservatory mostly come from places that have a warmer climate as well, including Asia, Africa, the Philippines and Costa Rica.

Butterflies in the conservatory tend to be more active at dawn and dusk, which are the times they often feed and enjoy basking in the sun. This is because these are the times of day that are most like their natural climates.

At first glance, walking into the conservatory seems like a tropical get away from our cold Canadian winter, but it is so much more than that. It’s entomology (the study of insects), lepidoptera (the study of butterflies), botany (the study of plants) and much more.

The butterfly conservatory has events almost every month for guests so that they can learn all about bugs and butterflies.

Sometimes they even get the chance to eat them, like at the annual Bug Feast that happened during March break last week. This year, the theme was maple, which ties into Canada’s 150th birthday. They had maple fudge with beetle larvae, maple bacon roasted crickets and cricket flour pancakes for everyone to taste. |

For more information on the conservatory and ticket prices, go to www.cambridgeconservatory.com

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Spoke Online is produced weekly during the school year by Conestoga College second-year journalism print students, faculty adviser Christina Jonas and new media technologist Michael Toll.