Sensational butterflies arrive for Museum summer exhibition

07 April 2011

Live butterflies have arrived at the Natural History Museum this week in preparation for the Sensational Butterflies exhibition opening on 12 April.

Watch butterflies emerge from their chrysalis in the hatchery

Watch butterflies emerge from their chrysalis through the hatchery window

For the first time giant birdwings join hundreds of other tropical butterflies from Africa, southeast Asia and North and South America, as they settle in to their summer home.

The new butterflies will start laying eggs within days and the population will increase as others hatch. Visitors will be able to look through hatchery windows and watch butterflies emerging from their chrysalis.

Sensory zones

This year’s exhibition is divided up into 5 sensory zones exploring how butterflies see, hear, taste, smell and touch. Did you know that butterflies see more colours than humans, and possibly any other animal in the world? Or how butterflies sense sound without ears?

There will be about 600 butterflies and moths in Sensational Butterflies, inc this swallowtail,

There will be about 600 butterflies and moths in Sensational Butterflies exhibition including this swallowtail.

Sensational Butterflies will be filled with fascinating butterfly facts, as well as fun interactive activities, including feely boxes, a crawl-through chrysalis and a butterfly puddle, where males gather to feed and attract females.

There’s also an outdoor garden with tips on how to attract caterpillars and butterflies at home.

Preparing the butterfly house

The butterfly house replicates the environment of the tropical homes of the butterflies. So the heat, humidity and light are strictly controlled and staff have been slowly increasing the temperature over the last few weeks to allow the plants, and staff, to get used to the hot conditions.

Butterflies of the world
This  owl butterfly stops for lunch on some fruit in the butterfly house

This owl butterfly stops for lunch on some fruit in the butterfly house

There are about 20,000 species of butterfly worldwide and more than 6 times as many species of moth. An amazing 40% of these are found in South America. However, there are many more species still undiscovered or not scientifically named yet. 

Butterflies and moths at the Museum

The Museum cares for one of the biggest and most diverse butterfly and moth collections in the world, gathered over the last 200 years. There are around 9 million butterfly and moth specimens in the collections.

How to tell butterflies from moths

The most reliable way to tell butterflies from moths is to look at their antennae. Butterfly antennae have a clubbed tip whereas moth antennae are usually thread-like or feathered.

Sensational Butterflies is on the Museum’s east lawn and is open 12 April to 11 September.

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