As well as the natural attractions of the landscape of the Wye Valley, at Symonds Yat there is a butterfly zoo. A tiny piece of steamy, tropical forest, recreated indoors where conditions are simulated to mimic the natural habitat of tropical butterflies.
Palms and vines compete for space with lilies and milkweed, as these beautiful creatures flit from plant to eye catching plant, looking for food.
In the wild a lot of tropical butterflies eat rotting fruit (just the job!) and here in the zoo the staff had thoughtfully put out platefuls of overripe bananas – yum!
You can see why the striking creature below is called the Owl Butterfly.
The markings on its hind wings provide it with excellent camouflage.
In fact, it is said to be more moth-like in behaviour as it is crepuscular i.e. active at dawn and dusk, whereas butterflies would normally be seen in the daytime – here it was certainly the most static and easiest to photograph!
The Blue Morpho, native to South and Central America, proved the most elusive, hardly settling at all. It was the biggest butterfly in the collection and in the wild can have a wing span of between 13 to 20 centimetres. It was a stunning sight, and the iridescence of its shimmering blue wings is said to confuse its predators as it has the effect of making it appear and reappear as the light catches them.
The Malachite, which ranges from the southern United States down to Peru, Argentina and Bolivia, is much smaller, with a wing span of 8 to 10 centimetres.
The next butterfly is I THINK! a Wood Nymph. I say ‘think’ because, although we were given some pictures to help us identify them, a butterfly can look very different with its wings folded as opposed to outspread! And another confusing thing is that some appear to be known by several names – this being a case in point – is it a Wood Nymph or a Paper Kite? Or something else entirely!
What is interesting is that the Wood Nymph, from South East Asia, feeds on milkweed, those tiny yellow and red flowers, and they contain toxins. The butterfly fills up on the toxins to put would be predators off eating it for supper – clever, eh?!
For such fragile creatures, some of the butterflies seemed to be carrying damaged wings – this swallow tail, for example,
or, even more noticeable, this Owl butterfly.
I don’t know to what extent this would affect them, perhaps they’re tougher than they look!
It was a joy to be so close to these lovely creatures and to see the colour and variety, not only of the butterflies themselves, but also the sweet shop colours of the exuberant, outsize tropical vegetation that they call home.