A moth inadvertently lands in a patch of mud. It extends and beats its wings frantically to try and release itself, to no avail, both wings became stuck in the ooze and the moth dies. 190 million years later, in Dorset, England, the fossil of the oldest known moth in the world was found. In the intervening years 160,000 species of moth and 17,500 species of butterfly evolved. Each is distinct from the next with its own colours and patterns that have evolved as defence mechanisms or as camouflage to hide the insect from predators and each has evolved a unique relationship with particular species of plants. This ecologically balanced environment has been recreated in Benalmadena. But first an answer to that burning question, ‘What is the difference between a moth and a butterfly’.
Butterflies mainly fly during the day, have drum shaped antenna, a slim body and when landed fold their wings vertically over the body. Moths fly at night, have more muted colours for camouflage since they sleep during the day, have feathery antennae and thick, hairy bodies for warmth. When landed the wings extend and fold over the body to reveal the pattern on the upper wings. All these facts and more can be learnt at the Butterfly House in Benalmadena where over a thousand butterflies flit from flower to leaf and occasionally, shoulder.
Outside the Butterfly House resembles a Thai temple and inside is a semi tropical jungle. Lush vegetation with colourful flowers, shrubs and orchids, provide the structures for the moths and butterflies. The plants have been chosen to host the many species and provide shelter for the eggs, food for the caterpillars, a fixing for the chrysalis and a perch for the newly emerged butterfly whilst it dries its wings. In addition to host plants, some of the planting is purely ornamental and some of it is for the nectar producing flowers that feed the butterflies. Staff regularly sift through the plants and remove the chrysalises to a purpose built rack that is on display. Here visitors can actually watch the butterflies and moths emerge. Each species has its own season so there is something to see all year round.
Running through the house is a stream that emerges from on high over a waterfall. A pond contains Koi Carp, some are quite large and may well have included unwary butterflies in their diets. One creature that definitely preys on moths and such is the Chameleon, which is why he is kept in a cage rather than let loose to hunt. Of no threat to the other inhabitants, including humans, are the iguanas that drape themselves indolently wherever they fancy, the tortoises, a few finches and parrots and surprisingly, a wallaby.
Over 500 butterfly and moth species have been collected from all over the world, Asia, the Americas, Europe and Oceania and include the largest moth in the world, the snakes head moth.
This is a nocturnal moth that perches and sleeps during the day; conveniently on a bush adjacent to the path that wends its way through the jungle. To protect itself from predators whilst asleep it spreads its wings and then resembles, you guessed it, a snake, well two actually, one on each wing.