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What I discovered on The Butterfly Walk

Written on January 19, 2011

On the Butterfly Walk at Woodford Folk Festival, which I wrote about in my last post, I learned all sorts of fascinating butterfly facts. While I did take a few notes, I was busy enjoying the moment so I only wrote down a small amount of what Frank Jordan told us. I have a bad memory for facts, so here is a small portion of what Frank told us. Brisbane based butterfly expert Helen Schwencke of Earthling Enterprises has given me some great facts to supplement this bog, woven below. I learnt that butterflies live far longer than I thought. I always thought they lived for five days. But they can live for between two weeks and six months. The longer living varieties ‘hibernate’ through winter, by hanging upside down in certain sheltered forests. The caterpillars of each species of butterflies have their own special food plants, mostly natives unless they’ve adapted to some non-native plants. Helen says: “It is a good thing, not a bad thing to encourage butterflies to your vegetable garden, as they will attract predators which will also eat pests in your garden. “Only Cabbage White butterflies eat your vegetables (and then only things in the brassicas). There are some other Lepidoptera caterpillars from a few families of moths that also eat vegetables. “There’s a big difference between attracting butterflies (providing nectar plants) and providing food for specific species of butterfly (and moth) caterpillars. If you provide food for the caterpillars you build up the predator, parasite and diseases, that can help your veges.” Some butterflies love to meet their mates by dancing on hilltops, which sounds rather romantic! I’d love to see that! However, human actions can interfere with these hilltop romances. (OK I know huge projection and anthropomorphizing there, but hey I am a storyteller). On the Butterfly Walk that morning, we spotted several beautiful, butterflies. I also saw a few amazing pupae, including this this clever one:  the white-banded Plane butterfly.

White-banded Plane butterfly Woodford Butterfly Walk Jan Smith Flickr

Jan Smith wrote under her photo in her Flickr album: The caterpillar chews off bits of leaf and attaches them to the rest of the leaf and hides amongst them. The chrysalis resembles a bit of dead twisted leaf. (See Frank Jordan & Helen Schwencke “Create More Butterflies”, p47.) How clever is that?!! The butterfly has a white pattern that some say looks like a cats face. Helen told me later: “When we change hill and mountain tops, through developments or other activities, the butterflies (and other animals that hilltop) are unable to do their mating rituals, and these species may eventually disappear because they can never mate successfully.” Helen added: “It’s very hard to say something that is actually true for all species, but generally butterflies can fly for miles to hilltop and mate. The disturbance on the hilltops disrupts the mating behaviour. Many butterflies can get their energy from a diverse range of sources, while some are specific about their food (nectar or other) sources.” All along the walk there were 34 beautiful posters- created by Helen Schwencke of Earthling Enterprises. There was one for each butterfly that was being encouraged at the Woodford site. Each poster showed the pictures of that particular butterfly, the caterpillar, the food it eats and facts about that species. Jan Smith wrote in her Flickr stream:

Helen’s poster for the Yellow Migrant butterfly

In preparation for the Dreaming festival next weekend, the Butterfly Walk was weeded and posters installed describing local butterflies. Helen’s poster of the Yellow Migrant butterfly has been cleverly positioned with a swathe of its host plant, the Climbing Senna, growing artfully over the top right corner. The native “Climbing Senna (Senna gaudichaudi) is similar in appearance to an exotic weed, Easter Cassia (Senna pendula var. glabrata). It can be distinguished from this weed because it has flat seedpods instead of the long cylindrical ones of the exotic species. In places native plants are mistakenly being removed.” (See See Frank Jordan & Helen Schwencke “Create More Butterflies”, p52.) So look closely at that Cassia weed before you rip it out. One is a terrible pest and the other is a gentle, native that is also butterfly food!

Butterfly poster by Helen Schwencke photo Jan Smith Flickr

I am off to bed now and as a last image before bed I shall ponder two images. Firstly  swirling butterflies performing their hilltop mating dance. Secondly the romantic and fantastic Irish tale of a graceful young woman called Etain who was changed into a butterfly by an angry, jealous witch. Ah, but that is another story- for another post!! Many THANKS to Helen Schwencke who checked my posts for accuracy and suggested a few changes which I have made, but I take full responsibility for any details I got wrong. If you are a butterfly enthusiast, it would be great to hear your comments!

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