Flight of fancy: a report from a butterfly farm in Malaysia

American sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury suggested that a misplaced butterfly could change the political system of a country. Malay teacher David Guo proved that a butterfly grown in time can determine the fate of several generations – this sign helped orangazli living in the jungle (as the representatives of the indigenous people of Malaysia are called) to make good money selling winged tropical beauties.

Flight of fantasy: reporting from a butterfly farm in Malaysia

< p>In the early 1980s, this living commodity became popular in Europe and the United States. Malaysia could provide them with a market like no other – more than 1000 species of butterflies live here. However, the Orangazly's omen turned against them —quickly the business passed into the hands of big players.

Flight of fantasy: reporting from a butterfly farm in Malaysia

At first, Joseph was not sure that he was ready, like his father, to devote his life to butterflies, and went to the USA to study as an architect. However, after training, Mr. Guo still returned to the family business. At first, he designed the building of the farm, and then gradually took over the entire business of his father in his own hands. Joseph's wife is marketing and selling souvenirs at the farm shop, and his daughter plays in the insect garden. Now Penang Butterfly Farm is one of the main tourist attractions of Penang Island, and its owner is called Mr. Butterfly by friends.

Most of the buyers sold other people's butterflies, but entomology teacher David Goh, who is fond of entomology, decided to make the insects really his own and began to breed butterflies on a farm. For 30 years, it has become the largest not only in Malaysia, but also in the world, and the business passed into the hands of one of Go 's sons – Joseph.

Light at the end of the tunnel

On the farm, among the compact labyrinths of tropical vegetation, flocks of butterflies are planning. There are at least 4,000 of them, at least 120 different types. You can meet such a variety only on the pages of an encyclopedia. From such an amount of beauty – fluttering, sitting on the branches of flowering bushes – is breathtaking. It was this effect that the short, smiling man who met us – the owner of the farm, Joseph Go, achieved.

I had to use various tricks, – says Joseph. “I planned the territory myself. Fortunately, I have the right education.”.

Flight of fancy: reporting from a butterfly farm in Malaysia

The space is truly unique. For example, the garden doors are wide open. In theory, the butterflies could fly away. However, everything is in place. The trick is quite simple – visitors enter the garden from a dark, cool gallery, where the air temperature is pleasant for people – 22-24 ° C. Butterflies are attracted by light and warmth, give them the tropics with a 30-degree heat. Therefore, insects do not tend to the black hole of the passage – they are not at all comfortable there.

For additional protection, the entrance is curtained with light curtains made of bamboo sticks. For a person it is a pleasing decor, for a butterfly it is an insurmountable barrier.

Flight of fancy: a report from a butterfly farm in Malaysia

The air in the garden is supplied in such a way that its streams do not knock the butterflies off course. Feeders are specially placed in different places: this allows visitors to better see insects, and butterflies do not collide with each other.

Flight of fancy: a report from a butterfly farm in Malaysia

Give to be eaten

The garden is just the tip of the iceberg that tourists see. The “production facilities” are several kilometers away and look more like a farm than a Garden of Eden. Joseph is one of the few “butterfly growers” involved in the production of a full cycle.

A flight of fancy: a report from a butterfly farm in Malaysia

“We raise butterflies from maggots to fluttering fairies, ” explains Joseph. – Most of the companies take the easy way, so as not to get involved in such complex processes as collecting eggs and feeding caterpillars: they buy pupae on the side – just from such large farms as ours”........ p>

The pupae are sent to customers from Europe and the USA in a thermal box. Each manufacturer tries to improve its design in order to reduce the number of marriages – pupae from which defective butterflies are hatched, for example, with transparent wings or without them at all. The percentage of marriage can sometimes reach up to 20. At the same time, dolls cost from $ 1.5 to $ 80 apiece, there are copies for $ 650 per pair – it all depends on how rare the species is.

The farm in Penang is divided into several zones. Future butterflies spend the bulk of their lives in the caterpillar stage; in some species, this period can last for many months. Caterpillars are extremely voracious: one is capable of eating the leaves of a whole tree.

If a child were to gain weight from birth just like a caterpillar, then by adolescence he would be more than 120 kilograms!

Flight of fancy: a report from a butterfly farm in Malaysia

On the farm, the main place is occupied by greenhouses for growing plants. Part of the vegetation moves from time to time to the demonstration garden. Flowers serve as a “dining room” for butterflies, and leaves – “living space” where insects lay their eggs. But most of the plants are eaten by caterpillars.

The branches on which they are planted are wrapped with a cloth on top so that the insects do not spread throughout the greenhouse, different species do not mix. When the caterpillars eat all the leaves inside this “corral”, they are transplanted to a new place. Particularly rare species are kept in separate containers.

Playing with dolls

Caterpillars that have eaten and accumulated strength pupate. Pupae that are not intended for sale are left for procreation and transplanted into an insectarium – a kind of maternity hospital for butterflies. With the help of bioglue, each chrysalis is manually attached to thin twigs. While today's workers can't complain—each cocoon used to be hung by a string, which took much more time and effort.

Flight of fantasy: a report from a butterfly farm in Malaysia

While the cocoon is hanging, a revolution takes place in it: everything that was once a caterpillar turns into a pasty mass, from which a fundamentally new creature is formed. If desired, the natural course of events can be slowed down or accelerated – just increase or decrease the temperature in the box.

The main thing is not to overdo it and not “burn through” the pupae. Calculating the optimal temperature and humidity is the business of a specialist technician. The exit of the butterfly from the cocoon occurs rapidly (from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes). Sometimes technicians also have to play the role of obstetricians, helping butterflies to free themselves from cocoons.

Flight of fancy: a report from a butterfly farm in Malaysia

Most of the work is done by hand, mechanization is out of the question. Therefore, those who want to spend hours transplanting caterpillars from one bush to another, hanging pupae and unwinding proboscis butterflies to feed them, are not as easy to find as it seems. In terms of unemployment, Malaysia is one of the last places in the world.

Freedom by contract

Newborn butterflies are sorted – some are sent to fly in the garden, the other is left for procreation, and the third… is released into the jungle.

Flight of fancy: reporting from a butterfly farm in Malaysia

— Such “waste” is actually too makes a profit,  explains Joseph. — We have a kind of contract with nature, one might say, on mutually beneficial terms. The fact is that when breeding in captivity, insects gradually begin to degrade, their color becomes not so bright and stable. Therefore, from time to time, you need to release butterflies into the jungle in order to receive a “fresh blood infusion” later.

Among butterflies, by the way, there are such fastidious ones that simply do not mate in captivity, the only way to get offspring is to release them to freedom, so that later they can catch a part for laying eggs. However, some insects, such as Helena's yellow birdwing (Troides helena), we release disinterestedly – just to increase the number in nature. We also plant her favorite food in the jungle – the liana Aristolochia tagala, which has become a rare species due to deforestation. Without this creeper, the birdwing simply cannot live.

Slipping beauty

There is a separate area for feeding butterflies. Most of them do not need to be persuaded to eat, however, specialists sometimes have to force-feed weakened newborn beauties, and this is quite a difficult task. It is necessary to unwind the thinnest proboscis of a butterfly, rolled up in a ring, with a toothpick, and lower it into the juice.

In an hour, one person can feed no more than 15 butterflies in this way. The success of reproduction directly depends on full feeding – a hungry butterfly is not able to mate and lay eggs.

A flight of fancy: a report from a butterfly farm in Malaysia

The difficulty is that different butterflies prefer different menus. Some need the nectar of flowers, others need sweet resin flowing from tree trunks, and others need the juice of rotten fruits. There are also butterflies with a unique enzyme complex that allows you to break down the protein components of pollen, thanks to which their life expectancy exceeds three months, which is a long time for a butterfly.

— The age of a butterfly is in the state of an imago, that is, an insect with wings, short, – sighs Mr. Butterfly. – This is the final stage of life, the most beautiful and the shortest – usually it is 2-3 weeks. Quite quickly, the wings of butterflies become thinner, covered with a network of “wrinkles” and begin to crumble. By and large toBeautiful wings, for the sake of admiring which we spend so much energy, the butterfly itself needs only to find a partner, mate, lay larvae for procreation – and that's it!

However, it is for the opportunity to enjoy this short-lived beauty for just a few minutes, people are still willing to pay big money. >DISTANCEfrom Moscow to Georgetown ~ 7850 km (from 9 hours 30 minutes in flight)

TIME ahead of Moscow by 4 hours in summer and 5 hours in winter


VISA not needed up to 30 days

CURRENCY ringgit (10 MYR ~ 2.4 USDin 2022)

Photo: Masterfile/East News, Diomedia (x5); Shutterstock, Penang Butterfly Farm (x2), Sime, Corbis/ALL OVER PRESS

Published in Vokrug Sveta #11, Nov 2014, partially updated Feb 2022< /em>

Maria Mernova


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