Butterfly mystery solved…

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it also solved the mystery of the missing Wisley butterflies…..

It seemed to me unlikely that Wisley staff had forgotten to put the butterflies in the greenhouse, or that they had perhaps misread the brief for “6000” butterflies and put in only 60, so there must have been another explanation. I decided to follow up with the Wisley events team and share my butterfly disappointment and enquire as to possible explanations.

In the usual British way I firstly apologized for my own disappointment, suggesting that it was probably my own fault for having expectations that were too high, and that I wasn’t calling to complain, just to share my experience that was a little negative (although I still loved Wisley). My enquiry was answered by the delightful James, one of the events technicians, who was responsible for hatching the butterflies. Over a series of email exchanges, he explained the following:

“The weather would have had an impact that day as the butterflies tend to take to the wing more on sunny days when the temperatures in the glasshouse can be maximised. When it is overcast and cold they tend to be more docile and don’t fly around as much”.

It was true – it was particularly cold, well, freezing on the day that we visited, so although the greenhouses felt tropical to us, I do imagine that butterflies are somewhat more sensitive to subtle changes in temperature – so perhaps they were all there but just chilling out on some leaves deep in the greenhouse.

James also added that they are adding 1000 butterflies a week to the greenhouse, so they are definitely in there, but perhaps in a more relaxed state.

When I enquired further about where they get their butterflies from, James wrote back with the following information:

“We are provided with stock from Stratford Butterfly Farm, with whom we have a strong relationship. In turn, their stock is sourced from South America, namely Belize.

 Packages of the pupae turn up to us here each week and myself and a few other colleagues attach them to bamboo canes and hatch them in our pupariums, which are on view to the public in the Glasshouse. Once in the pupariums they take a few days to hatch and then we collect them in baskets and release them.

 Most weeks our deliveries are anywhere between 700 – 1200; the only exception being the last week where we order less so that they naturally die out before the event ends. As the events progresses we do tend to find quite a few eggs and caterpillars amidst the foliage, so these can grow and hatch also. Any ‘spares’ we send back to Stratford”.

James also kindly attached some photos, which are shown below:


A package of Chrysalis that Wisley receive from Stratford Butterfly Farm

Some additional very shiny pupae!

Some recently hatched butterflies on the bamboo cane on which they are hatched:

Some teeny weeny caterpillars just after hatching:

I also loved James’ personal insight, where he added:

“I actually find the hatching process more interesting than the fully fledged butterflies themselves, as the pupae are quite marvelous and sometimes wriggle, displaying the life within”.

There’s no doubt in mind – with only two and a half weeks left of the butterflies in the glasshouse event, I will definitely be heading back there (perhaps on a warmer day!) to check up on the butterflies. I didn’t visit the puparium before, but that’s definitely on my ‘to see’ list now. Good old Wisley has come up trumps again and I’d like to thank James for getting back to me and for his patience with my never-ending questions.

Get yourself to RHS Wisley Gardens people* – the butterflies will be there until the 5th March and the gardens hopefully for centuries more!

* ticket and membership information included in previous blog

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We are a small family who love big adventures. Our aim is to get outdoors, travel, explore, and live our lives adventurously. We choose to define our lives by the richness of the experiences that we have had rather than by the stuff that we own.

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