An article by Seth Harischandra (Junior School Nature Club)
A butterfly: wings, colours, flowers. That’s what most people think butterflies are, but if you were to observe them more carefully, you will understand that they are much more than fluttering insects.
A butterfly haven
Sri Lanka boasts over 248 species of butterflies, with 31 of them being endemic. A person who studies these flying beauties is called a ‘lepidopterist,’ just like Dr. George Michael van der Poorten. He is the proud owner of a 50-acre butterfly haven located in Wariyapola. This story is all about our encounters in this wonderful place that we were fortunate enough to visit.
Dr. van der Poorten is an eminent lepidopterist who has researched and studied butterflies in Sri Lanka for over forty years. A few weeks ago, he gave an informative lecture on butterflies to the members of the Nature Club at Trinity Junior School. We were extremely delighted when we learned that a field trip to his butterfly garden had been arranged exclusively for us. With a few more weeks to go, I’m certain everyone was counting down the days for this grand expedition.
After crossing out numerous days on the calendar, April 5th, 2023 finally arrived. All the members gathered punctually at the Junior School gate by 4.50 a.m., as instructed by our teacher in charge, Mrs. Indu Gunawardena. Everyone waited impatiently until the van arrived to take us on our 2-hour journey to Wariyapola, where we were expected to arrive by 7 a.m. To our delight, we were joined by the Head Master, Mr. Ananda Marasinghe, the Teacher in charge, Mrs. Indu Gunawardena, and Ms. Devari Alwis. At exactly five o’clock, we embarked on our long-awaited journey to step into the world of beautiful butterflies.
We made great progress in reaching our destination, with everything running like clockwork. By 7 a.m., we clambered out of the van to finally meet Dr. van der Poorten and his wonderful wife, Nancy van der Poorten, in person. As everyone got off the van, we eagerly rummaged around to see if we could spot some butterflies right away. However, there seemed to be none, and we began to doubt if we would see any at all. To our relief, Dr. van der Poorten explained that butterflies prefer to dry their wings in the morning as the sun rises, and he was right!
After a while, butterflies started to emerge one by one from all over the place and flew around freely. We kept seeing more and more butterflies, so many that we couldn’t even count them!
The Van der Poortens offered us a delightful breakfast of milk rice, after which we took a look at the fish and turtles in the small lake close to the house. Dr. van der Poorten and Nancy taught us many tips on butterfly watching, and we set off to explore their garden.
This 50-acre butterfly garden was truly magnificent and tremendously huge! It was so vast that you could almost call it a proper jungle. Many different kinds of trees and shrubs were planted to attract different species of butterflies. We learned that each kind of butterfly has its own favorite plants to lay eggs on, and the larvae also have their preferred plants to feed on. I think the Van der Poorten Garden is literally a Butterfly Hotel, and one needs over four and a half hours to see the entire place.
We were able to spot many different butterflies and learned how to identify them by the patterns on their wings. It was interesting to discover that some of the most beautiful butterflies were actually poisonous, at least to their predators, not to us.
As the sun rose, the day became hotter, and we often had to return to the house to refresh ourselves. Some members entertained themselves by collecting peacock feathers scattered all around.
In the end, we had lunch and afterward, we had a little discussion about what we had seen on this expedition. Dr. van der Poorten kindly gave us some more peacock feathers and valuable copies of his book “Field Guide to the Butterflies of Sri Lanka” as souvenirs. As we waved goodbye to Dr. van der Poorten and Nancy, we felt a bit sad that the field trip had come to an end. However, deep in our hearts, we knew we would never forget this wonderful day!