Where do our butterflies come from?

In Newsby Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

“Where do all your butterflies come from?”

As guests wander around the Conservatory, we often get asked – how do we get thousands of tropical butterflies to a Conservatory in Southwestern Ontario?

It helps to understand the life cycle of the butterfly in order to understand just how we can ship butterflies from halfway across the world.

Of course there are exceptions, but most butterflies spend about 2 weeks in each life stage – egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly. We partner with butterfly farms in tropical countries that raise the butterfly through the first two life stages. As soon as the caterpillar forms a chrysalis, they’re ready to be sent to us. Since, in this stage, they do not move around or need to eat, it’s an ideal life stage to ship them. The chrysalides are then packed in a box between layers of cotton and then sent by airplane to our Conservatory.

When the box arrives, we unpack the chrysalides and use hot glue to attach the very tip of the chrysalis to a straw, and then hang it in the emergence window. The Emergence Window is a favourite point of interest for our guests, because often you can see a butterfly emerge or take its first flight into the Conservatory.

The farms we work with are located in Costa Rica and the Philippines, and we receive shipments almost weekly, alternating between these two locations. Costa Rica is where we get the neotropical species such as the beloved Blue Morpho, Giant Owl butterfly, Zebra Longwing and Malachite. From the Philippines, we receive old world butterflies like the Rice Paper, Plain Tiger, and Atlas Moth.

So why don’t we just raise the eggs and caterpillars ourselves?

Well, if we were to raise thousands of caterpillars in our Conservatory, they would eat all our plants in literally a matter of weeks!

Thankfully the butterfly farms we partner with are able to help us out. Sustainable butterfly farming started several decades ago as a way to conserve tropical rainforest habitat. It’s a win-win-win for everyone involved: local families get to earn a living while having a vested interest in protecting tropical environments; the butterflies and other living organisms benefit from habitat protection; and people like us in non-tropical environments get to experience an amazing attraction displaying butterflies and learn why insects are important.

So come visit the butterflies and enjoy a visit to the tropics without the long air flight or expensive travel bills!