The sight of a butterfly is exciting – their bright colours are captivating and their presence tends to mark the beginning of warmer days. In our household, these insects are a common occurrence as I am an amateur butterfly breeder.
Having always had an interest in butterflies (some may call it an obsession), I received a "grow a butterfly kit" as a gimmicky birthday present seven years ago. Many escapee caterpillars and destroyed houseplants later, I am now fully kitted out to breed butterflies from tiny egg through to ravenous caterpillar, pupa and then all the way to the fully formed insect. Once the emerged females lay their eggs, my adult hatchlings are released into the wild with an emotional farewell and a hope that they will survive.
Breeding butterflies is a beautifully rewarding experience but takes some preparation. Emergence months and migration patterns must be researched, hatchery nets replaced and caterpillar food sources located (which are not the neighbour's prize rose bushes). For example, in preparation for a new batch of Comma butterflies, pots of nettles currently surround a corner of the house, much to the irritation of the hands and legs of any unsuspecting passer-by.
A regular species in our household is the Painted Lady. This butterfly has a lovely temperament and one of the world’s furthest migration routes for butterflies. They are known to appear as far South as South Africa and as far North as Greenland! There are often times when up to 10 of them will be sunning themselves on my arms, happily enjoying the warmth - I just have to remember to remove them when leaving the house!
I have learned through my hobby that there is so much more to these insects than meets the eye. A common misconception with butterflies is that their wings are coloured. In fact, the majority of butterfly wings are made up of layered cuticle forming 'scales' along the wing membrane. The colour we see is produced by the refraction of or absorption into the scales of different light wavelengths, giving each butterfly its striking colour. Even then, some have no scales whatsoever and so are almost entirely see-through – they are masters of disguise!
Moreover, butterflies are incredible creatures for their contribution to climate change research and their assistance with pollination. If butterflies are emerging too early, this could indicate an increase in global temperature. They also thrive in low pollution areas and where there are sufficient green spaces to provide sustainable food sources for the caterpillars. As we enter the spring/summer months, keep an eye out for these tiny creatures and let the Butterfly Conservation Organisation know of any you see. Who knows, they might even be one of mine!