Butterfly Paradise is heaven for glasswings
Saturday 5 April 2008
A remarkable species of butterfly with transparent wings has bred so well at ZSL London Zoo that its numbers have multiplied by more than 10 times in two years
Glasswing butterflies (Greta oto), native to central and South America, have see-through scales which makes it more difficult for predators to see them on leaves and flowers.
When Butterfly Paradise opened in 2006, 10 glasswing butterflies were resident in the humid free-flying exhibit. Now there are more than 100 butterflies and caterpillars living in the exhibit, and plenty of eggs “waiting in the wings” so to speak which will hatch as caterpillars before undergoing their metamorphosis into butterflies.
Glasswing butterflies have a complex breeding technique that involves “stealing” pheromones from other butterflies to attract their own mates. The butterflies feed on the decomposing bodies of other butterflies which contain certain chemicals, absorbed from plants, known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Once they have “stolen” these pheromones, they use them to attract mates. In Butterfly Paradise, the glasswings feed on the bodies of tree nymph butterflies when they die, allowing the circle of life to complete within the exhibit.
Keeper Ellie Stringer said: “We are delighted by the breeding success of these amazing glasswing butterflies. The fact that we have been able to create a self-sustaining ecosystem for these butterflies which allows them to breed naturally proves we are getting our exhibits right for the animals that live in them.”
She added: “The glasswings really captivate visitors which helps us in our mission to teach people about butterfly conservation.”