The Butterfly House near Coffs Harbour is well worth a visit to see the spectacular display of Australian butterflies and to learn more about these beautiful creatures. One of the first things I noticed when I entered the Butterfly House was that the temperature and the humidity were high. This is for the health and wellbeing of the butterflies, not the visitors. Don't worry though, if you find the conditions uncomfortable, you can leave the Butterfly House and re-enter as often as you like. The average daytime temperature is 29C with a minimum night temp of 17C. Heating on cooler days, and cooling on warmer days, is by a reverse-cycle air conditioner, like household AC. The special lights in the Butterfly House simulate a summer's day during winter and also brightens the space when it is cloudy outside.
The Butterfly House opened in 1995 and is one of the few fully enclosed, climate-controlled butterfly houses in Australia. The glass house is 21 metres long and 13 metres wide. More than 50 different Australian species have been trialled in the last decade to establish which are suitable for breeding in this enclosed and controlled environment. There is usually about a dozen different species flying around inside at any given time. The Butterfly House breeds most of the butterflies on the premises, but they do buy pupae (the non-feeding stage between larva and adult) from specialist butterfly farmers who supply local, northern Queensland and Northern Territory species. Live, exotic butterflies are never imported into Australia from any overseas countries because of the risk of disease. The feeding platforms provide an artificial nectar solution of sucrose, glucose, fructose and water. The colourful discs attract the butterflies to the nectar.
Fabulous Flutterby (image by May Cross)
Nectar on Feeding Platform (image by May Cross)
In addition to the gorgeous butterfly display, there is a teaching area, and you can view the laboratory area where they raise many of the caterpillars. There is a sweet little tea room, a well-stocked shop with butterfly-related gifts at all price points, extensive gardens and even a maze to amuse the children. It is perfect for a family day out. The kids are so excited when the butterflies land on them and there are the best photo opportunities. For further details go to Butterfly House website.
Butterfly Gifts Galore (image by May Cross)
Tips Watch where you are walking as some butterflies will be resting on the path and you don't want to step on any. Don't touch the butterfly's wings, even if they land on you, as they are very delicate and break easily. If you want to know what they feel like, there is a section where the wings from dead butterflies have been collected and you are free to handle them. The tour guides will explain the butterfly's life cycle and give lots of insider information and answer all you butter-related questions. However, you don't have to participate in a guided tour – you can just wander around at your own pace.
Tea Room Courtyard (image by May Cross)
Interesting Facts about Butterflies
The lifespan of a butterfly varies from a few days to several months. The various species on display in the Butterfly House have an average life-span of about three weeks.
Caterpillars grow but butterflies don't.
Female butterflies can lay more than 200 eggs.
The largest species of Australian butterflies is the Cairns Birdwing which has a wingspan of up to 22cm. The largest species in the world is the Queen Alexandra Birdwing in New Guinea with a massive wingspan of 28cm.
There are approximately 1,500,000 scales on the wing of a swallowtail butterfly.
Lab where caterpillars are raised (image by May Cross)
Attracting Butterflies to Your Own Garden I learnt that if you want to have butterflies at your place, you need to cultivate flowering plants for the butterflies to drink from as well as host plants for the caterpillars to feed off. Of course, don't use chemicals in your garden to get rid of pests, as they will kill the butterflies and caterpillars too. Some good nectar plants to grow, which attract and feed butterflies, are impatiens, daisies, verbena and plumbago. Good host plants which feed caterpillars include citrus trees, milkweed and the beautiful flame tree (which "will blind the weary driver"). Your tour guide is a host of information and the front counter staff are happy to discuss butterfly gardening with you. The Butterfly House also sells plants so that you can make a healthy butterfly garden of your own.
Blooming Lovely (image by May Cross)
What is the Difference Between a Butterfly and a Moth? They have many similarities and come from the same order of Lepidoptera, which means "scaly wings". You probably already know that butterflies fly during the day and moths fly mainly at night. Another difference is that butterflies' antennae are clubbed on the end but moths' are pointy and usually feathery. Butterfly caterpillars form a hard chrysalis whereas moth caterpillars weave a protective silk cocoon. Also, butterflies normally rest with their wings together but moths tend to rest with their wings open.
Grass Yellow rests with its wings together (image by May Cross)