A chance glimpse of a brochure while visiting Scotland led to a life-changing decision for Nambour local, Brett Hoopert.

by Rebecca Mugridge

The magic of glimpsing a butterfly in the garden stops most adults in their tracks. The sight brings a moment of wonder and has been delighting the imaginations of children forever. We love to see these glorious creatures fluttering about their day, but how much do we really know about them?

According to Butterfly Hill owner, Brett Hoopert, visitors to his butterfly house and plant nursery on Petrie Creek Road in Nambour are amazed at what they learn about local butterflies.

While many people have heard about the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly and its need for a specific vine, many don’t know that every single butterfly needs a certain plant to lay their eggs on. Some will only lay their eggs on one specific plant. That plant then becomes symbiotic with their survival. 

Unfortunately, for many butterfly species, people don’t tend to grow their particular plant – they are not the pretty kind you pick up from a local garden centre. In fact, being weedlike, they are often sprayed and removed from footpaths, driveways, school grounds and gardens.

And Brett says the host plant is key to everything when it comes to butterflies.

“Without the host plant you don’t get the butterfly. It’s all about host plants, that’s the trick to the whole thing. 

“Like most people I didn’t have a clue what butterflies ate or about host plants in the beginning. But I say to anyone wanting to help butterflies – plant host plants.”

It was a chance moment in Scotland that led to a life dedicated to butterflies for Brett.

“I went to Edinburgh, Scotland. I found a brochure and it said, ‘Come and see Australian butterflies – the most amazing creatures in the word.’ I thought, I’ll go have a look! I went and my mind was blown. 

“I learnt all about butterflies and host plants. They had each species gathered around their own host plant, and it was all temperature controlled. I stood there and thought, ‘I want to do this’ [back home].”

Not long after, as fate would have it, Brett was made redundant by Telstra. “I took the money and had a pray and thought to myself, where can I build a butterfly house? 

“I was looking at blank blocks of land and then this place came up, an old nursery. Perfect. And that was it! Scotland gave me the inspiration for an Australian butterfly house.”

Brett explains some interesting facts about butterflies: “They taste with their feet; they hear with their wings. They smell and navigate with their antenna and the angle of the sun. Some are migratory, others don’t go anywhere.” 

As an example of different species traits, he points to the caterpillars, “He is that colour because he eats the poisonous sap of the milkweed. He is advertising it with all the bright colours. Eat me and you’ll get sick.

“Some have camouflage, some are poisonous, others look spikey. They all have different methods of trying to protect themselves.”

The five species at Butterfly Hill are endemic to the Sunshine Coast, so, as Brett says, if you have the host plants and some nectar plants, you can have all the species you see here, also in your garden.

Butterfly Hill visitors are able to listen to talks and experience things they might not otherwise have the chance to, such as sometimes seeing a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis!

Brett does have a favourite amongst his butterflies.

“I like the Eggfly, that’s the one with spots on its wings. It might not look much at first, but if you look at the spots on the wings, they’ll actually turn an ultraviolent purple depending on which angle you look at them. 

“They are also the friendliest butterfly we have in here. They will actually land on people, whereas the Monarchs won’t.

“They aren’t just friendly, and they are also funny to watch. They are territorial, the males. They will fight each other all day over food and females!”

Brett says for most butterflies to have a good season, they need to have had a good rain, so there is plenty of fresh, new growth around. Rainfall, availability of host plants, and the right weather conditions all play a big part in their numbers each year.

“They won’t move until it’s above 25 degrees, so at the butterfly house the best time to see them is between 10 and 12 on a warm day.”

If you’ve never been in a butterfly house, head to Nambour – Butterfly Hill is a magic experience.

Visit: Butterflyhillnambour on facebook for more information