FORT WAYNE – Imagine being surrounded by hundreds of varied and brightly-colored Asian butterflies, some with wing spans of up to eight inches.
In just a few days, spectators at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory will be able to enjoy such an experience at the 10th annual butterfly showcase, the Butterflies of Malaysia.
Although the display opened Saturday and will run through July, the butterflies have just begun to hatch. But staff members expect most of the first crop of chrysalises (pupa or cocoon) to hatch throughout this week, said Linda Miller, supervisor of business development.
The butterflies prefer warm, sunny days to hatch, Miller said.
The butterflies are enclosed under a canopy with a nearby hatching station and observation windows. The exhibit includes feeding stations for the butterflies and benches for the humans intent on butterfly observation.
As the butterflies hatch, they are carefully monitored, counted and put into containers to be released into the main visitor center portion of the tent.
The collection includes the paper kite, known for its delicate, black-and-white checkered wings that resemble rice paper; the tailed jay, fairly common but striking with its green and black spots and stripes; and the great orange tip, a shy butterfly with a 4-inch wingspan. The chrysalises come from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
The conservatory will receive a new crop of chrysalises every week to replenish and build the supply, Miller said.
The normal life span of a butterfly is four to six weeks.
An exit area will allow visitors to be scanned for stray butterflies trying to flee the premises, Miller said. We don’t want them outside of the tent, she said.
Visitors are schooled on the rules of butterfly observance at a separate entrance area, as well. There they are taught not to touch the butterflies’ delicate wings.
If one lands on a visitor, which they often do, we show them how to gently blow on the butterfly or touch its feet, Miller said.
The tent contains plants and flowers that provide nectar, but are chosen specifically because they are not host plants, meaning the butterflies will not lay eggs in the plants, Miller said.
The conservatory is not licensed for breeding, but only for displaying, Miller explained.
The exhibit is very labor-intensive and for that reason is the only one of its kind within a hundred miles or more.
But the end result is worth it, Miller said.
Lots of people come to visit the exhibit and love it, especially schoolchildren, she said.