Butterflies are an endless source of fascination for the young and old. Tradition regards them with mystery, believing them to be visiting spirits of deceased loved ones. For many people, they are colorful paragons of beauty.

It is a good thing Thomasians can enjoy butterfly-watching at the Butterfly Sanctuary. Patterned after the santuary at the La Union Botanical Garden, it was a project undertaken by Dr. Romualdo del Rosario, Edwin Tadiosa and Dr. Lilian Sison, dean of the UST Graduate School (UST-GS).

Dr. Bonifacio Cayabyab, professor of University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) and entomologist, says that a butterfly’s life span is one month, after it survives predators like praying mantises, birds, spiders or man.

But man in this case, serves as the protector. The Butterfly Sanctuary, he says is a good setting for the breeding of butterflies in captivity.

Butterflies belong to the insect kingdom, under the Superfamily Papilionoidea or the True butterflies. According to Cayabyab, the Sanctuary shelters butterflies belonging to families Papilionidae and Nymphalidae.

These species are Papilio lowi, Papilio rumanzonia, Papilio alphemor, Graphium agamemnon, Graphium sarpedon, Leptosia mina, Catopsilia pyranthe, Catopsilia pomona and Appias olferna, all of which belong to the Papilionidae family. The Nymphalidae family is also represented by Jumonia hedonida, Jumonia almara, Eurema hecabi, Danaus chrysippus, Hebomoia glaucippa, Parthacus sylvia and Papilio hippomus.

Most of the butterflies in the garden were sourced from Palawan or Los Baños. According to Cayabyab’s research, butterflies serve an important role in agriculture as they pollinate crops, serve as food for the predators and indicate ecological balance due to its sensitivity to toxins.

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A butterfly primarily defends itself by mimicry. It is a protective mechanism of imitating another butterfly that is more poisonous or dangerous to avoid being eaten by predators. This is achieved by imitating the color of the butterfly’s wings or adding appendages to its wings to deceive a predator and escape being eaten.

A butterfly’s wings are coated with chitin, which makes their wings waterproof. They mainly feed on honey which they extract from flowers, but they can also feed on 5-10% glucose solution.

The sanctuary is covered with a fine mesh net to prevent butterflies from escaping. Upon entering the netted area, one is greeted by a fairy-like garden of flowers. The visitor follows a winding path over a bridge, a man-made waterfall, and several caves. Inside, facts about butterflies are posted. There are benches inside where the visitor may rest and relax in this atmosphere where butterflies freely roam.

Currently, there are over 1,600 species of butterflies in the Philippines. But due to deforestation and urbanization, many green spaces are lost, along with it go the flowers where butterflies feed on.

The Sanctuary in UST therefore serves as a habitat where butterflies can freely roam and multiply. It also serves as a venue to study the life cycle of butterflies.

A butterfly undergoes four distinct stages called metamorphosis that transforms a crawling caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly. These four stages are namely the egg stage, the caterpillar or larval stage, the pupae or chrysalis stage and the adult or butterfly stage.

The butterfly’s eggs are deposited on the leaf of a plant, and after hatching, a new caterpillar emerges.

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During the larval stage, the caterpillar primarily feeds on leaves of the plant where it grew up from. After a while, it will grow too big for its skin and undergoes a process of shedding called ecdysis. Ecdysis involves the butterfly attaching its rear to a tree, then literally walking out of its skin, by shedding it, called instar. The new skin always differs in pattern and color from previous ones.

The caterpillar skin is covered with hairs and spines to protect itself from predators, making it survive until the next stage.

After the fifth instar, the caterpillar’s skin will harden. Some caterpillars spin silky threads around itself before hibernating inside its cocoon. But most of them just stick themselves to tree branches.

The processes happening inside the cocoon remain to be a mystery. It is believed that caterpillars turn into a soft creamy liquid with no eyes or any body parts as it reassembles itself to become a butterfly. It stays inside the cocoon for a few weeks or months.

At first, the cocoon is dark and opaque, but when the butterfly is almost ready to come out, the cocoon becomes translucent, revealing the butterfly.

As it comes out from its cocoon, it crawls out weak and moist, its abdomen initially big and its wings are crumpled. Yet, the combination of warm sunshine and the rapid waving of its wings which pumps liquid from its abdomen makes it fly.

Now an adult, the butterfly soars, displaying the beauty of its wings. It feeds on flower pollens and is a major agent for pollination.

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The Butterfly Sanctuary is the jewel of the newly-refurbished UST Botanical Garden. It is a precious gift and treasure for the Thomasian community to learn and enjoy God’s creations. With reports from Stephen Roy O. Chua-Rojas

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