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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Butterfly House

Irrelevant but pretty photo of a fish. You're welcome.

Last year, I tried to raise butterflies. The completely average Pieris Brassicae, to be precise. I found caterpillars and a steady supply of their favorite food, I set up cute little jars with cute little mesh fabric wrapped around the top, and I went as far as to name one of the jars "Jar Of Success" (no really... I put a post-it on it) because it housed the fattest caterpillars of the bunch. It was a complete and utter disaster.

Fast forward a few days, I noticed the caterpillars were kind of... inactive. Fast forward a little more. There is no easy to say this. I started noticing tiny little things moving inside my precious caterpillars. Fast forward just a tiny bit, tiny bit more and they had eaten their way out and were building cocoons with the caterpillar's silk. Dear lord. I had nighmares about zombified caterpillars for two whole nights after that.

Turns out I'd been a victim of a parasitic wasp, the infamous Cotesia Glomerata. If you're interested in the mechanics of chemical warfare as employed by tiny little bugs, this is one great post on the subject - though the photos might be a bit graphic for those among us who are not particularly fond of crawling things that eat other crawling things from inside out. Around the end of the year, I had the opportunity to speak to a butterfly expert - who told me his caterpillars had met the same fate. I let out a sigh. Turns out it wasn't just me being completely inefficient after all.

But let's stop with the gloom and doom and talk about a place in Lisbon where people are actually doing this successfully! Aka the Borboletário, or The Butterfly House, of the National Museum Of Natural History. It opened to the public in 2006, and it's a small, enclosed garden of mediterranean host plants, where you can simply walk in and observe the different life stages of our most common butterflies, and their interaction with their environment. Sadly, I didn't see any new ones when I was there, but it's been a bad year for butterflies anyway. Maybe I'll go back once it's warmer.

Aaaaand... I'll leave you with pictures in the meantime.

(Borboletário do Jardim Botânico de Lisboa - Rua da Escola Politécnica, Lisboa)

I thought it was beyond cute how these butterflies wouldn't fly away from me - I could have touched them, that's how friendly they were. I don't actually know whether butterflies can be social with humans. But if there's a good place to run that research, this is it. Do visit if you have the chance! Cheaper tickets if you pay for the museum and the botanical garden as a package!

Do as I say!

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