Butterfly tunnel

Open from May to end of October. Cold weather may alter start and end dates slightly.

What do butterflies eat?

Most adult butterflies sip flower nectar, but others may feast on fluids from sap flowers on trees, rotting fruits, bird droppings, or animal dung. Decaying fruits give butterflies sugars, useful as carbohydrate.

In the wild, adult male butterflies enjoy puddling about in mud. Here they congregate for a communal supper, sometimes at the edges of streams or ponds.

Want to find out more? Read on:

The verdant plants in our walk-through butterfly polytunnel provide a playground for the beautiful tropical butterflies which develop in the warm and humid part of the tunnel.

The netted area at the lower end of the tunnel through a partition door leads to a display of native British species.

Among the butterflies in the tropical display are species from South America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Phillipines and Australasia.

We buy the butterflies as pupae reared in their countries of origin.

Each pupa is glued to a stick and placed in a humid cabinet until they hatch. They are then released into the flight area.

Butterflies live within a flowery canopy grown to provide a food supply of nectar and pollen. Some of the plants in the tunnel are grown as larval food plants.

The plants encourage egg laying and subsequent caterpillars which add to the interest of the exhibit. For example, Swallowtail species lay eggs on plants from the citrus family. Monarch butterflies eat Asclepias and the Owl butterfly caterpillars eat banana leaves. Take a close look at the underside of the leaves on the plants in the tunnel. You may see eggs and caterpillars.

In the area devoted to native British butterflies we have planted nettle, a favourite of the Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoishell and Painted Lady butterflies. It is the caterpillar of these varieties that eat the leaves and not the butterfly. A hop plant feeds the Comma and fennel feed the lovely Swallowtail.

We have placed small oak trees in pots which feed the fat lime-green Tussore Silkmoth caterpillar but the Robin Moth prefers the Willow.

Sadly we do not have enough space for suitable habitats required to fly all the British native species. Instead, into this part of the tunnel we introduce common species from outside, or source less common species such as fritillaries from captive-bred eggs and caterpillars.

Our butterfly tunnel is an opportunity to educate and inspire young people to look out for the different life cycles of moths and butterflies in the wild. In July, the Butterfly Conservation project conducts the Big Butterfly Count. This is a great way to learn about local native species and identify their prevalence. Butterflies are sensitive to changes in the environment and have seen a collapse in numbers in Britain during the past three decades.

More than three-quarters of the 60 species found in the British Isles are in decline, including the meadow brown. The Holly Blue and Gatekeeper are among the other butterflies once recently regarded as common species which are now believed to be joining the list in need of protection.

For more information: www.butterfly-conservation.org and www.kentbutteflies.org

Most adult butterflies sip flower nectar

Tropical butterflies develop in the humid part of the tunnel but we also display some native, British species

Inside our butterfly tunnel

Take a close look at the underside of leaves and you may see caterpillars

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Opening Times

Winter

November to end March
Open Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays) 10.30am-4.30pm

Summer

April to November
Open every day 10.30am-5.30pm

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COT
COT

Set on a beautiful 100 acre farm in Woodchurch near Ashford, Kent, the Rare Breeds Centre was founded by COT in 1992. COT provides homes and life skills opportunities on the farm and in other locations to people with learning disabilities

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