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Cayman’s ‘butterfly garden’ heralds arrival of breeding season

Cayman’s ‘butterfly garden’ heralds arrival of breeding season

The blooms are getting more plentiful at Cayman Turtle Centre’s butterfly garden, heralding the arrival of butterfly breeding season, as well as visits from a variety as migrant butterflies.

The garden is also a learning tool for students visiting the facility on educational field trips.

Butterflies and day-flying moths can be seen at the garden throughout the day, but the best viewing times tend to be late mornings as the sun warms up the cold-blooded insects, and early afternoons as the temperature begins to slowly decline from the peak of the day.

Since the garden opened, many of Cayman’s native butterfly species have been recorded visiting the garden and surrounding area. Butterfly guide sheets are available at the aviary for $2, and the staff can assist with any butterfly related inquiries.

“Butterflies are more than just pretty things,” said the Cayman Turtle Centre’s terrestrial exhibits curator Geddes Hislop.

“Along with bees and nectar feeding birds and bats, they are critical for pollination, the environment’s mechanism by which trees and other plants multiply and spread to form meadows, mangrove wetlands, woodlands and forests that sustain habitat, promote plant biodiversity, preserve soil and provide food and medicine for humans and wildlife.”

Mr. Hislop noted more than 80 percent of all the plants on Earth need to be pollinated in order to form fruits and seeds. More than one-third of the plants that people grow for medicine, food, clothing or to feed livestock, need to be pollinated by insects in order to produce a crop.

According to the reference book “Butterflies of the Cayman Islands,” more than 50 species of butterflies and skippers have been recorded on Grand Cayman, and more than 30 on each of the Sister Islands. Five sub-species are endemic to the Cayman Islands, including the spectacular Cayman swallowtail (Heraclides andraemon tailori) and the Cayman pygmy blue (Brephidium exilis thompsoni), possibly the world’s smallest butterfly.

“To look for local butterflies or to attract them to your garden, they do not only need the nectar-producing flowering plants for the adults, but they also often require a separate plant species as the larval food plant on which to lay their eggs and feed their caterpillars,” said Mr. Hislop.

He said the garden’s key to making a suitable home for butterflies is its mix of native wildflowers, which represent what might be considered weeds.

“Plants with colorful local names such as Spanish needle (Bidens alba), catbush (Turnera ulmifolia), lantana (Lantana camara), vervine or blue porter weed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), donkey weed (Stylosanthes hamata) and pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) adorn the garden and attract a variety of feeding and breeding butterflies,” said Mr. Hislop.

“By allowing a section of your garden to grow a mix of these native wildflowers, you will encourage your own resident flying jewels. Do not worry about your flower beds or vegetable garden, caterpillars are often very specific about which plants they feed on and their natural food plants are often well adapted to bounce back quite well after being completely defoliated.”

Mr. Hislop said some of the more common garden butterfly species to be seen in Cayman include the white peacock (Anartia jatrophae), Mexican and Gulf fritillary (Euptoieta hegesia and Agraulis vanillae), and the queen butterfly (Danus gillippus), one of the local representatives of the monarch family of butterflies. The great southern white (Ascia monuste) is famous for creating the large “snow” swarms occasionally seen in North Side. Some of the smaller butterfly species include the crescent spot (Phyciodes phaon), dotted hairstreak (Strymon istapa), Lucas’s blue (Cyclargus ammon erembis) and other members of the tiny blue butterflies that often go unnoticed by the casual observer.

With the garden marking its one-year anniversary in November, plans for future enhancements include possibly enclosing the garden under a mesh structure to create a butterfly house.