Adult Common Brown Butterfly, taken at Melbourne Museum
Image: Siobhan Motherway
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: Why are there so many butterflies in the courtyard outside the Museum? What kind are they?
Answer: Visitors to the Discovery Centre in the last few days have been noticing large numbers of beautiful orange and brown butterflies congregating in the garden courtyard outside the glass doors. They fluttered around occasionally, but mostly rested on the glass walls and doors in the shade.
These butterflies have the scientific name Heteronympha merope, and the rather unflattering common name of “Common Brown”. They are far prettier than their name implies! The Common Brown is widespread over the south-east corner of Australia ranging up into south-east Queensland. The butterfly occurs in a wide variety of habitats but especially grassy woodland and dry eucalypt open forest with a grassy understorey.
But what were they doing in our courtyard? The courtyard outside the Discovery Centre has been planted with a number of native plants, the foliage of which is used to feed some of the insects being bred for the Bugs Alive! exhibition. However none of the plants are currently in flower making it unlikely that the butterflies were congregating there for food. Females aestivate (meaning to enter a dormant or semi-dormant state in hot weather) during summer, seeking out cool and shady locations to rest. The Museum’s planted, shaded courtyard obviously fits the bill nicely as a sheltered resting spot for these welcome guests!