Butterflies at Riverbanks Zoo | Project Discovery

In their new exhibit at Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden, butterflies are the “jewels of the sky.” A cloth-covered display lets in sun and rain, but doesn’t let the butterflies out. The plants in the display are attractive to butterflies because of their colorful flowers. The exhibit houses over 20 different species and some 300 individuals. Many of the butterflies are native to South Carolina, including swallowtails, monarchs, sulfurs, and yellows.

The life cycle of a butterfly includes the stages of egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult. Zoo workers put the chrysalis they receive in a hatching box. It takes a few days to two weeks for a butterfly to emerge from the chrysalis. The chrysalis becomes very thin before the adult emerges. The lifespan of a butterfly is only seven to14 days.

Females drum on leaves to find the right food source on which to lay eggs. Males puddle, or take up nutrients and water from puddles and wastes. Flight patterns of butterflies vary from slow and deliberate to sporadic. Their colors sometimes mimic tree bark and leaves, or even other butterflies. The viceroy is a perfect example of mimicry because its colors are just like those of a monarch. Monarchs are distasteful to birds; therefore the viceroy is protected. Monarchs make a yearly migration from Canada to Mexico. This trip takes all summer and requires several generations to complete the journey.

If you would like to start your own butterfly garden, plant as many flowers as possible. The butterfly bush and lantana are some of the butterflies’ favorites. They also like water, where they can land on the ground or a rock and drink.

The zoo also has a clinic for raptors and their rehabilitation. Raptors are large birds of prey. The zoo takes in birds that have been injured by car accidents or gunshots. This service is available 24 hours a day. Medical specialists get a thorough history from the person bringing in the bird, assess the bird’s major problems, and make sure the bird has good nutrition. X-rays are also taken to see if the bird needs surgery. Once the raptor is well, it is handed over to a raptor rehabilitation facility.