More than two thirds of Malaysia is swathed with vegetation. Within the lowland dipetercarp and hill forests dwell more than 1,032 species of butterflies, which present unlimited opportunities for the delightful hobby of butterfly watching. The butterfly represents tranquility, grace and freedom. Unfortunately, they are extremely sensitive to the environment and have an extremely short life span — only an average of two weeks. Catching sight of these living works of art is a wonderful experience that should be cherished.
Malaysian butterflies can be roughly divided into highland and lowland species though some can be found at all elevations. The Clipper (Parthenos Sylvia), for example, is a lowland species that is frequently found at the edge of the rainforest and scrub areas. On the other hand, the Malay Lacewing (Cerhosia Hypsea) lives on both lowland and hilly areas. The Raja Brooke Birdwing is the most famous of Malaysian butterflies. It was discovered in 1885 by A.R. Wallace and named after the first Rajah of Sarawak.
The amateur who is taking the plunge in butterfly watching for the first time should first note the behaviour of tropical butterflies. Large numbers of butterflies are seasonal, often coming with moderately wet weather after a dry spell and an abundance of flowers and new leaves. Generally, they prefer a cool, moist and leafy habitat. Butterfly hotspots are flowers, hilltops, mud puddles and caterpillar food plants. Flowers often attract butterflies because of the nectar they produce. Sometimes a plant or tree that is in full bloom will have swarms of butterflies feeding on its nectar. Many species are also attracted to rotting fruits and animal urine. Certain areas attract certain species. For example, the majestic Raja Brooke Birdwing is often hovering near river banks, while the Blue Crow and Banded Yeoman are fond of clearings and the forest edge. Though many butterflies start searching for food early in the morning, they are most active between 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. It is recommended that dull coloured clothes be worn, and that you arm yourself with a pair of binoculars.
Three popular tourist spots where one can observe highland butterflies are Fraser’s Hill, Cameron Highlands and Bukit Larut in Perak. Though Fraser’s Hill (1,524m) and Cameron Highlands (1,462m to 1,755 m) are in Pahang, they are both accessible from Kuala Lumpur. Bukit Larut (1,054m) is only 7 km from Taiping in Perak, and forms part of the Bukit Larut Forest Reserve. Among the recommended areas in the lowlands for butterfly watching are Pantai Aceh Forest Reserve on Penang Island; Paya Indah Wetlands Sanctuary in Putrajaya; Templer’s Park and Kanching Forest Reserve in Kuala Lumpur and Air Keroh Forest Reserve on the northern fringe of Melaka town. All these areas can be visited on a day trip.
At Fraser’s Hill, the WWF-sponsored Nature Education Centre in the sports complex dispenses maps showing the nature trails around its seven hillocks. For butterfly watching, the Mager Trail is the most rewarding, and the area around the Jeriau Waterfalls also teems with colourful flitting creatures. At Tanah Rata in Cameron Highlands, visitors can pick up maps from Cameron Museum & Information Centre. Choose those trails that meander past waterfalls and alongside streams. The Parit Fall and Robinson Waterfalls are also hot spots for butterflies. Bukit Larut is located in the wettest region in the country, with most of the forest trails near its summit.
Visitors who do not wish to trek in the jungle can visit one of the five butterfly farms in the country: namely, Penang Butterfly Farm, Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Farm, Cameron Highland Butterfly Farm, Melaka Butterfly Park and Poring Butterfly Farm in Sabah
Opened in 1986, Penang Butterfly is the world’s first butterfly sanctuary. It is located at Teluk Bahang, about 17 km from Georgetown, and occupies a 0.8 hectare site. Double doors lead into a 41m x 42m enclosure that houses a landscaped garden with gargling brooks, koi ponds and quaint curved bridges. Dripping foliage of and Within the netted enclosure, more than 4,000 Malaysian butterflies representing 120 species flit around your arm’s reach. There are also stations along the meandering pathways that provide information on the various stages of butterfly’s life cycle — from egg to caterpillar to pupae.
Side attractions are the scorpion pit and snake house. There is also a tank with aquatics insects such as water scorpions. These creatures breathe through their tails. The reptile station display several species of giant-sized geckos and lizards from South American and Africa. Try to spot the Thorny Stick Insect, Walking Stick Insect and Moving Leaf Insect in other glass cases. The Insect Museum is packed with more than 2,000 specimens, including 600 species of butterflies and moths 800 species of beetles and other creepy crawlies.
The Poring Butterfly Farm is located in the settlement of Poring, 40km southwest of Kinabalu Park headquarters. The farm is divided into four areas; namely; netted enclosure, exhibition gallery, breeding room and food plant nursery. The netted enclosure is 25 metre square and six metres in height, and houses more than 500 butterflies of various species. In the exhibition gallery, preserved specimens and photographs are displayed. Information panels present interesting facts n the butterfly as such distribution and behavioral characteristics such as mimicry and colouration.
The Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Farm is modelled after the one in Penang, and is nestled within the lush Lake Gardens. Cameron Highlands’s butterfly farm is perched atop a plateau, about 5km from Kea Farm in Brinchang. Melaka Butterlfy Park is located in Ayer Keroh, and also includes a marine centre. . There is also a small butterfly park within the sprawling grounds of the Jubli Perak Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Agricultural Park, which is located 5km from Bandar Indera Mahkota near Kuantan.
Facing buying a preserved Raja Brooke Birdwing or a Banded Yeoman mounted in a decorative glass case as a souvenir? Pop over to Papillion in Batu Caves Light Industrial Estate in Batu Caves, just 10km north of Kuala Lumpur. This is probably the only company in the country that manufactures all sorts of collectibles using the butterfly. There are plastic paper weights, pen holders and key chains with preserved butterflies embedded within them. Apart from butterflies, there are also scorpions, rhinoceros beetles and stick insects mounted in glass cases — they make a good conversation piece in one’s living room or study.