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Butterflies in the Glasshouse - peek behind the scenes with Cara Smith at Wisley

Posted by Sara Draycott on 14 Jan 2013 at 12:15 PM

Hi. I'm Cara Smith, a horticulturist in the Glasshouse at RHS Garden Wisley.  At this time of year I'm also responsible for care of the butterflies during the Butterflies in the Glasshouse event.


January – It is Butterfly time again!  My job as a horticulturist, growing and caring for the plants in the Glasshouse at Wisley becomes more diverse at this time of year as I double up as butterfly carer, responsible for looking after the butterflies during the Wisley butterfly event.

It is a very busy time but I have to say I love it. This is my third butterfly event and I am still spellbound by the magic of seeing a butterfly emerge from its pupa and the beauty of these amazing creatures when viewed at close quarters.

 


Butterflies have been emerging for the last two weeks, and the numbers in the glasshouse have been growing steadily ready for the start of the event.  We have two new arrivals for 2013.  The Tiger Longwing which as you can probably guess is different shades of orange and black in tiger like markings and the White Morpho (pictured above). This is a beautiful large pearl white butterfly with small circular markings on the underside of its wing.  It reminds me of silk printing and is quite stunning.


The set up for the event started a couple of weeks before Christmas, making sure everything was ready for the arrival of the first batch of pupae on the 21st December.  The pupae are carefully packaged in a lot of cotton wool (see below) and sent to us by post.

 

All pupae need to be stuck onto bamboo cane, replicating the natural environment where they would be attached to twigs with silk.  We replace silk with Copydex glue, as you can see in this photo, which does a very good job.

 


The first batch was only a small batch of 200 pupae, consisting of those species which take approximately 2 weeks to emerge.  We have since received two more batches of 700 pupae, the latter arrived last Thursday.  Thus my afternoon was taken up trying to stick very wiggly pupae (yes they wiggle, especially it seems when you are trying to delicately balance them onto a spot of glue on a bamboo cane) onto canes.  Our work paid off and now the emergence cage (in the Glasshouse Gallery) is full of neatly, (well, quite neatly), stuck pupae.

 


As the butterflies emerge we transfer them into the Tropical section of the Glasshouse where they can fly around and feed on plants.  We supplement their food using feeding stations which contain holes into which we put a sugar solution which simulates nectar.  We also put out some fruit which some of the larger butterflies like to feed on.  They prefer it when it starts to rot and ferment – so for the butterfly event rotten fruit in the glasshouse is also a feature – but don’t let this put you off. 

 

These lovely creatures will be with us for several weeks, and I hope to keep you updated on their progress. I hope you get the chance to pop to Wisley to see them for yourself - they are truly awe-inspiring, and just the thing to lift your spirits on a winter's day. 

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