It was one of those rare Saturdays where both myself and Barrie had a day off together, with the added bonus of glorious sunshine! Keen not to waste the fine weather we decided to visit the Magic of Life butterfly house, just a few miles outside of Aberystwyth.
After a short drive through the rolling welsh countryside we arrived in the valley where the Butterfly house is situated. We were immediately struck by the peace and quiet as well as the obvious beauty of our surroundings. It really is the perfect spot to relax and forget about some of the stresses of life!
The butterfly house itself is nestled within a gorgeous garden which provides a fantastic sensory experience as you are surrounded by beautiful colours, fragrant flowers and the gentle hum of numerous insect wings.
The entrance to the butterfly house, nestled among the scenic Welsh countryside
A rare red passion flower in the garden – kindly pointed out by Neil the manager.
Towering buddleia flowers swayed in the gentle breeze at the edges of the garden. Commonly referred to as the butterfly bush, these flowers are aptly named as they were swarming in countless butterflies from many different species.
By far the most abundant species was the painted lady. This species is currently experiencing a surge in numbers due to a phenomenon known as a ‘painted lady summer’.
A pair of painted ladies (below) and a red admiral (above)
Painted lady hide & seek
Other butterfly species too crowded the flowers including red admirals, small tortoiseshells and the occasional small white.
A painted lady (left) with a larger red admiral (right)
Painted ladies with a small tortoiseshell (right)
A small white butterfly
Red admirals and an incoming painted lady
A small tortoiseshell with open wings (right) as a red admiral feeds in the background
All were irresistibly drawn to the blooms, eager to get their share of the sweet nectar within which they reach with their long proboscis.
With a little patience I was able to capture some close ups of the butterflies feeding. Although I am still getting grips with my macro lens and getting the correct exposure on manual settings I am quite pleased with these results.
Red admiral feeding on nectar
Painted lady feeding and displaying it’s striking underwing pattern
Small white with a torn wing
Another red admiral
Around the gardens it wasn’t just the butterflies which were abundant, almost every flower was crawling with hoverflies of many different species. I have never seen quite so many of these insects in one place!
With some 200 species in the UK, there was a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours among today’s hoverflies including this particularly striking hoveryfly with a striped thorax, sharing it’s flower with a tree bumblebee.
Hoverfly (below) with tree bumblebee (above)
Another species with a much plainer colouration and fluffier appearance. I am unsure of the exact species as they can be very difficult to ID, but it may be one of the bumblebee mimic species.
Another more obvious bumblebee mimic with thick banding on the body to replicate a bumblebee warning pattern.
A much smaller, slender bodied species
A drone fly, one of the most common form of hoverfly.
Another drone fly cleaning its forelegs
Aside from hoverflies, down in the undergrowth were signs of the impending autumn as hundreds of tiny nursery web spiders crawled among the flowers.
A tiny nursery web spider
This vivid mason wasp was busy guarding these newly ripened bramble berries, another sign of autumn!
Mason wasp on berries
I could quite happily have spent all day just photographing the gardens here, but eventually I was able to tear myself away and we headed inside to the tropical butterfly house itself.
We were welcomed into a small reception area, lined with containers home to various creepy crawlies including beetles, tarantulas and one of their newest arrivals, Pepito ‘Pedro Pepito Picante’ the Mediterranean banded centipede who was found as a stowaway in a suitcase travelling from Grenada. (Something which made headline news here in the quiet town of Aberystwyth!
By far the most impressive creature was this magnificent atlas moths, quite literally hanging out at the reception desk. These are the largest moths in the world, with an impressive 12 inch wingspan!
Atlas moth on the counter!
Atlas moths only survive in this adult form for around 1 to 2 weeks at most. At this stage they are unable to feed and their only purpose is to find a mate, which they do so by detecting the pheromones of a potential mate with their huge, feathery antenna.
A close up view of the huge antenna of the male atlas moth
From the reception we entered the butterfly area via a heavy plastic curtain used to safely confine the delicate butterflies within and maintain the conditions inside. We were immediately hit by a wall of heat and intense humidity, as the conditions here carefully controlled to replicate the insects’ natural rainforest habitat.
These were not the easiest of conditions for photography or indeed the most comfortable. My camera lens immediately fogged over with condensation but thankfully after a few minutes the camera acclimatised and the glass cleared.
Unfortunately many of the larger and truly impressive butterflies weren’t on the wing today but there were still plenty of other species to spot, dancing among the foliage.
Photographing them in the gloom under the canopy of leaves did not produce particularly pleasing results so instead I waiting until the butterflies emerged into a suitably sunlit clearing.
A striking zebra longwing
A giant orange-tip butterfly
Clipper sipping nectar from a feeder
Another butterfly from the longwing family, this one is known as the postman and has a variety of wing patterns.
The piano key form
The rosina form
Butterflies, like the atlas moths mentioned above also have a very short lifespan, and some of the butterflies here were clearly nearing their end with faded colours and ragged wings such as those seen on this blue morpho. This species very rarely opens it’s wings on landing and sadly this one did not reveal it’s stunning electric blue upperwing to us.
A blue morpho with distinctive eye spots which are a defence against predators
A rather dishevelled clipper
Most of my photographs from the day are butterflies at rest, as trying to photograph them in flight in the challenging light was almost impossible. This did at least allow me to get some rather fascinating close ups.
A longwing curling up it’s long proboscis after feeding
A malachine butterfly face on
The vivid green eye and body patterns of the blue morpho
I was also thrilled to capture what looked like courtship display between a pair of postman butterflies. As a female settled on a leaf a male danced around her in an frenzied flight, repeatedly brushing against the female.
Courtship flight of the postman butterfly
It appeared that this female however had already mated and despite this male’s best efforts she rejected his advances with a subtle lift of her abdomen.
A female with abdomen lifted as signal she is not willing to mate
This wobbly video clip shows the action rather better than the still images.
Whilst some of the butterflies were quite skittish, others are much more placid and many in the tropical house will happily land on your finger for a drink of honey water. I added a few sticky drops to my hand as recommended and tempted this malachite butterfly to climb aboard.
Sipping honey from my hand
Me with my little passenger!
Despite my attempts, none of the other species were tempted by my honey water however my husband was more successful and soon had this clipper butterfly clinging to his finger.
Whilst my camera equipment acclimated to the conditions quickly, I did not adjust nearly so well and despite several breaks in the cooling breeze outdoors the heat of the tropical house soon became too much and we called it a day.
If you would like to find out more about The Magic of Life Butterfly House visit www.magicoflife.org
All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography 2019 ©
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