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1

With the forthcoming opening of our Sensational Butterflies exhibition in April, and the digitisation of our collections progressing gradually and efficiently, I thought it would be welcoming and encouraging to post a 3D art video on butterflies.

 

The video, titled “Gone?”, was made by Graham Macfarlane and Elitsa Dimitrova of Elyarch, a small but well-established and creative digital company, based in London.

 

I met Graham and Elitsa during the last Science Uncovered evening at the Museum in September, when they approached the Lepidoptera forest station to admire our displays and to chat about flight in Lepidoptera. They were particularly curious to know how butterflies and moths hold their legs during flight.

 

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The Lepidoptera display during last year's Science Uncovered.

 

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How do lepidopterans hold their legs while flying?

Top Hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) © Alessandro Giusti;

bottom Swallotail (Papilio machaon)© Lukas Jonaitis


“Difficult question!” I replied with a pondering smile. As a matter of fact I don’t think I had given the topic much consideration before then.

 

A few days later, after talking with some colleagues and having done a little research on the subject, I sent Graham and Elitsa an email saying that probably, in insects, the position of the legs during flight differs slightly according to groups.

 

Presumably, as in other insects, lepidopterans' legs hang more or less down under the body, and very likely their position changes according to the particular moment of flight, ie migration versus flying while feeding or moving short distances, or during courtships etc, and I suggested to look at images and slow motion videos of flying insects on the internet. 

 

A few weeks later they sent me the art video with thanks for the information I supplied, so I thought I'd share the video with you in case you haven’t seen it yet.

 

 

 

 

I really enjoyed the video; it's well-designed and captivating, even if the legs of the flying butterflies are probably not portrayed 100% correctly.

 

But let’s give the artists the benefit of poetic licence, and it shouldn’t matter after all, as long as the work entertains and stirs something in the viewer. Which I think “Gone?” does. 

 

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I like how the butterflies are taking off from an immobile position, as if they are all dormant inside a collection box, and a kind of imperceptible and secretive command suddenly wakes them up.

 

This makes me think of our collections, and how the digitisation projects currently taking place in our Museum are a sort of revival of our specimens and of all the useful data associated with them. A virtual awakening which makes our specimens more accessible.

 

But what I like most about the video is that it carries a nice message of hope, and it’s not just about butterflies, but also about any other organism we share our planet with: it’s an invitation for us all to reflect on the beauty, complexity and fragility of the natural world, and the responsibility each of us has to preserve it. A philosophy that is ingrained in the values of the Natural History Museum, as we have always aspired to promote the discovery, understanding, responsible use and enjoyment of the natural world.

 

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The vivid beams of light shining on the gliding butterflies and the shimmer created by the dislodged tiny scales of their wings give a wonderful sense of hope and awakening.

0

We say farewell to our summer beauties this weekend on Sunday evening when the Sensational Butterflies outdoor exhibition closes for another year. This has been the sixth Museum butterfly exhibition and once again it's been a sensational hit with visitors.

 

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'What's great this year,' says Luke Brown, our butterfly house manager, 'is that in addition to our usual summer tourists, we've seen an increase in returning visitors.

 

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'Butterfly numbers have been higher than ever throughout the run of the exhibition and and we've spotted as many as 1,000 butterflies in one day. The diversity of species has been really rich too. The house can accommodate more than 1,000 happily, but that's a good limit for our nectar supplies.'

 

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Darting through the hothouse one last time today - and it is hot inside, be warned - there seem to be many of the bigger species fluttering around and, in particular, different swallowtails (above). And I don't think I've seen such a gathering of owl butterflies on the feeding table (below).

 

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One of the highlights we'll all remember about this summer's exhibition were the pictures of HRH Prince George's first birthday taken at Sensational Butterflies - the Duchess of Cambridge is our Patron of course. And we hope he'll be back again for his second and many more.

 

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On Sunday evening, the butterfly house team of staff and volunteers will work until sundown and then from first light on Monday to pack up all the inhabitants, who then wing their way over to Longleat in Wiltshire. Their next hothouse, in fact, used to belong to the Museum and was taken over by Longleat in 2008.

 

Luke flies off to Malta and after that Kuwait for more international butterfly projects and he'll be back next spring when our 2015 butterflies exhibition is due to open again.

 

0

It's 56 years ago this week that Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita was published in America (55 years in the UK).

 

What does that have to do with the Museum, you might ask?

 

Well, the Russian-born writer was also a keen lepidopterist. He published nine scientific papers on butterflies, developed a pioneering theory of butterfly evolution, and even worked for eight years at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology arranging their collection of Lepidoptera.

 

Such was his love of the winged creatures that he is quoted in a 1967 edition of the Paris Review as saying:

The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new (butterfly) organ under the microscope or an undescribed species on a mountainside in Iran or Peru. It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to lepidopterology and never written any novels at all.

Vladimir Nabokov

 

His specific connection to the Museum came in the 1960s, when he approached our Entomology Department (now the Insects Division) about a book he was working on called The Butterflies of Europe. It was to include over 700 butterflies and he wanted to illustrate it with photographs of specimens from our collection.

 

Nabokov wanted the book to be the most comprehensive work on European butterflies ever completed. But alas, it was never completed. The publishers said Nabokov was discouraged by the daunting nature of the task; Nabokov said the publishers wouldn't provide enough money to fund it.

 

But the legacy of Nabokov's butterfly book publishing dream lives on in the Museum's collection to this day, where a handful of drawers still contain specimens the author requested to photograph, labelled with his name (albeit incorrectly spelt).

 

The drawers contain butterflies from the Nymphalidae and Hesperiidae families, including half a dozen British species.

 

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Butterflies personally collected by Vladimir Nabokov are housed at the American Museum of Natural History, Harvard and Cornell university museums, the Swiss Zoological Museum in Lausanne, and the Nabokov Museum established in the St. Petersburg house where he was born.

0

A team of Museum scientists and volunteers visited Slapton Ley Nature Reserve between 21-25 July to sample invertebrates from a variety of habitats. Volunteer Rachel Clark reports back on their first day in the field.

 

Our first day of fieldwork mainly focused on a range of microhabitats in Slapton Woods, which is a short 10 minute walk from our base camp (Start Bay Centre).

 

Slapton Woods is ancient woodland located on the edge of Slapton Ley Nature Reserve, inland from the lake and the sea. The woodland has been around so long that is it is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Before the Field Studies Council (FSC) started to maintain the woodland (which they do only for public safety), it was largely unmanaged.

 

img1.jpgAnd so our first day of collecting started, deep in the amazing ancient woodland of Slapton Woods.

 

Now personally at this moment I felt like I was walking in the footsteps of great biologists such as Alfred Russel Wallace, Charles Darwin, and Henry Walter Bates... there are so many! I was so excited I could have danced through the woods. Raring to go with my backpack, pooter (that’s a suction device) and net, I caught up with everyone and we began to sample.

 

Working with creepy crawlies of the soil


Now this is an area which I know a lot more about, the sampling of invertebrates in the leaf litter and soil. Before we had a chance to get our bearings in the woods, Miranda, Georgie, Beau and myself got to work on some rotting logs.

 

img2.jpgBeau searching under some rotting logs for some good specimens for us to collect.

 

We were looking for groups like isopods (woodlice) and myriapods (centipedes and millipedes). This is done by opening up the rotting wood to expose the species which have burrowed into the wood.

 

It's all about the unknown - Malaise traps and yellow pan traps


So today, after a good few years sorting Malaise trap specimens in the Museum’s Soil Biodiversity lab, I finally got to see how Malaise traps work, which for me was really useful, as it means I can understand how the specimens were collected. 

 

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Thomas putting the final peg in the Malaise trap, a device that captures winged insects.

 

Malaise traps collect species of insects which fly such as Diptera (flies) and Hymenoptera (bees and wasps). They work by allowing the insects to fly under a tented area. They hit the netting that runs down the middle of the trap and then fall to the floor or hang on the netting. All winged insects after falling to the floor want to fly or climb upwards The Malaise trap directs them up towards the highest point where there is a funnel leading into to a pot containing ethanol – which quickly kills them.

 

We will be keeping our Malaise traps up until Thursday evening, when we will take them down and hopefully have an amazing bounty which will take very many hours to sort to order (Diptera, Hymenoptera etc).

 

What we did after we finished sampling for the day

 

After all the excitement and seriousness of sampling in the heat all day, we all have to find a way to relax and unwind… my personal favourite for celebrating a first successful day of sampling is to jump into the sea… fully clothed!

 

img4.jpgGoing, going, gone! Running in to the clear beautiful sea at Slapton Beach… yes, fully clothed!

 

img5.jpgGeorgie enjoying the entertainment and me having a relaxing moment floating in the warm sea.

 

Moth traps and sweep net collecting in the next blog piece, so stay tuned.

 

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

0

Those who know me know that I tend to get a bit twitchy around flying things (eurgh, pigeons, they're crazy and can't be trusted). But I've never been so scared of a winged creature that I felt the need to pull a gun on it.

 

But then again, I've never been two days deep in the rain forests of New Guinea and confronted by the world's biggest butterfly, which boasts a wingspan of about a foot wide.

 

However, in 1906 English explorer and naturalist Albert Stewart Meek found himself in that very situation while on a collecting trip for Walter Rothschild, so he pulled his gun and shot that butterfly right out of the sky.

 

As a consequence, the Museum's type specimen of the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae), has bullet holes in its wings!

 

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Bottom: The holotype female specimen of Queen Alexandra’s birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae), described by Rothschild in 1907. The large tear in the left forewing and the several other smaller holes and chips (circled), are as a result of it being shot.

Top: How a female Queen Alexandra’s birdwing looks when it hasn't been shot for collection.

 

At this point I should probably clarify that Meek wasn't using regular shotgun shells but, instead, what is known as 'mustard seed' or 'dust shot' cartridges. These were designed especially for daring explorers and collectors of the time to shoot small birds at short range without causing damage to their plumage.

 

Meek was also responsible for another addition to our curious collection of 'shot birdwing' specimens, this time a goliath birdwing (Ornithoptera goliath), obtained on Goodenough Island, off eastern Papua New Guinea, in 1914.

 

In a letter between entomological dealer Oliver Erichson Janson and collector Charles Oberthür, it was written:

[Meek] was only able to obtain a few specimens by shooting them as they always flew only about the tops of the highest trees and he couldn't induce them to come down.

 

The earliest of our shot birdwings is one captured by John MacGillivray on Guadalcanal (Solomon Islands) in 1854, during the voyage of HMS Herald.

 

In describing MacGillivray's specimen as Queen Victoria's birdwing (Ornithoptera victoriae) in 1856, George Robert Gray wrote:

Its flight is very elevated; so much so that it became necessary to employ powder and shot to secure the specimen.

 

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Above: MacGillivray's holotype female Queen Victoria's birdwing (Ornithoptera victoriae), with damage from shot.

Below: A Queen Victoria’s birdwing collected using more conventional means.

 

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Birdwings are not the only entomological specimens in our collections with bullet holes. We also have a goliath beetle (Goliathus goliatus), captured 125-years-ago, that was recently revealed to have been shot in its back while in flight.

 

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Entry and exit wounds in the goliath beetle, as well as a shotgun pellet still inside its body as revealed by X-ray analysis.

1

Stepping into our outdoor butterfly house has been one of the most popular summer sensations at the Museum. The hot, sunny days have helped to keep our tropical high-fliers active and abundant.

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The Sensational Butterflies exhibition closes this Sunday, 15 September. It's been a family favourite for visitors during the summer months.

 

Last weekend I visited the Sensational Butterflies exhibition once again and was lucky to catch a silk moth in all its splendour, newly emerged inside the hatchery, surrounded by bewitched youngsters. Among the luxurious undergrowth, hanging precariously from banana leaves, were little furry owl butterfly caterpillars and the zebra butterflies were everywhere.

 

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Leaving soon - the Sensational Butterflies house

 

Just today, Luke Brown, our butterfly house manager, told me that a new type of owl butterfly has appeared recently in the house for the first time. Look out for Caligo atreus (below left) on your visit. You can tell it from other owl butterflies by its vibrant colours.

 

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Highlghts of the exhibition in the heat of the summer included the monster Atlas moths and other almost-as-large moth pupae (below).

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You have until 17.30 on Sunday 15 September to get to Sensational Butterflies here at the Museum. After Sunday evening, all the butterflies will be going to another butterfly house (probably Longleat) and the house will be kept in storage for another year…

 

Until then, there's still time to enter our free prize draw to win a sleepover at the Museum and tweet your own butterfly and moth photos to @NHM_London to be pinned on our Sensational Butterflies Pinterest board.

 

Thanks to last month's Pinterest winner, Martin, whose fab photo was drawn from the Jul-Aug entries.

 

Once the butterflies leave, more wildlife will be coming soon to the Museum in the shape of the eagerly-anticipated Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 exhibition, which opens on 18 October.

0

One of the many rewards of returning to work in the garden after a short break is not only to see changes in the vegetation that have occurred but also to hear about the different species of insects that have been spotted recently. Here Larissa tells us about the vibrant butterfly life during two sweltering weeks in July:

“Just living is not enough," said the butterfly, "one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”

― Hans Christian Andersen, The Complete Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales

It’s my favourite time of the year and I have welcomed the heat after a cool spring. This spell of fine weather is particularly good news for butterflies, whose populations had suffered from the previous years’ wet and cool summers. Butterflies and moths are unable to fly, find mates, feed or lay eggs to maintain population levels when the weather is poor. They are sensitive to environmental changes, and because of this, they are seen as good indicators of the likely effects on other species from a changing climate.

 

The first to emerge in the Garden earlier in the year at the end of April, were the orange tip (Anthocharis cardamines). Both male and female butterflies were around so hopefully they have mated successfully and we shall see their return next year. The males have the distinctive orange tips on their wings from which they get their name while the female is less conspicuous, lacking the orange tips and distinguished from the whites by the green mottled underwing which she shares with the male.

 

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Orange tip - this male was hiding from the April chill earlier this year, in the warmth of our greenhouse. Photo © L. Cooper

 

Early May saw the arrival of the first speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) and the holly blue (Celastrina argiolus). The holly blue is a delicate and beautiful butterfly with their blue wings brightening up the early spring garden. It gets its name from its preference for holly (Ilex aquifolium), but it also lays its eggs on ivy (Hedera helix), especially the summer brood.

 

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Holly blue - while males and females differ slightly on the upper wing, they are less distinguishable on the underside. Photo © Peter Eeles, Butterfly Conservation

 

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Speckled wood - often seen sunning themselves on a log in the Garden's woodland areas, or around the shed. Photo © L.Cooper

 

There have been plenty of large and small whites (Pieris brassicae and Pieris rapae, respectively) around since spring, dancing together over our pond and in the meadow. Although common and seen as a pest to many allotment owners, you can’t deny their beauty when in flight.

 

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Large white - setting aside one or two cabbages for caterpillars, and removing them from the rest, could be a way to happily coexist with the small and large white butterflies. Photo © Tim Melling, Butterfly Conservation

 

But it’s these last two weeks in July which have been the most impressive. The arrival of the sun has brought more butterflies with it and it never ceases to amaze me just how much wildlife can be found in this little acre of green in the heart of London.

 

On the 15 July, I sighted the first visits of the year to the Garden from 3 different species. First up, a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) passed me by near the pond resting just long enough in the reeds to admire its bright colours.

 

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Red admiral. Photo © Neil Hulme, Butterfly Conservation

 

The red admiral was followed shortly by a skipper flying around the hedgerow flower near the greenhouse. These were planted with the aim of providing a nectar source for insects so it good to see that it is working! Unfortunately, the skipper lived up to the reason for its name and was quick to fly away so I have neither a photo or species identification, but I think it was likely to be a large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus).

 

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Large skipper - the members of this genus adopt a typical pose making it easy to identify them as skippers. Photo © Ian A Kirk, Butterfly Conservation

 

I then spent about an hour, on and off, trying to spot an elusive bright orange butterfly which kept tempting me, then flying away at the last moment. It looked too bright to be a British specimen at first and I thought it may possibly have been an escapee from the Museum's nearby butterfly house that is on the East Lawn for the summer. However, when it landed long enough for me to take the poor picture below, before it took to the wing and disappeared, I was able to identify it as a comma (Polygonia c-album). Although it was a first for me, it has been a frequent visitor to the garden in previous years and it is resident in the country.

 

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A comma - bigger than I imagined, but recognisable from the rough wing edges. The species gets its name from a white 'c' shape on the underside of its otherwise brown wing. Unfortunately, this one didn't stop for long enough for me to capture this signature marking. Photo © L. Cooper

 

A couple of days later, not only did our new volunteer Alora spot the first six spot burnet moth of the year but a little while later we had a Garden first. A ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) settled in the meadow long enough for us to take a picture and identify it by the distinctive rows of rings on the underside of its wings (n.b. they do also have rings on the upper wings). This was a very exciting day!

 

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Ringlet - not only a first for the Garden but also an uncommon species in London. Photo © N. Lake

 

 

Today I can also add a brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) to the list of my sightings, feeding on purple loosetrife nectar by the Garden’s waterfall.

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A brimstone feeding - my first sighting of the species was earlier this year at Juniper Hall. It’s lovely to see them here in the Wildlife Garden too. Photo © L. Cooper

 

I’ll keep looking for butterflies this summer, and you can also join in with Butterfly Conservation Trust’s Big Butterfly Count. It’s the world’s largest butterfly survey and by taking part you can help monitor the health of our environment. The Big Butterfly Count is really simple and great for all ages, and even comes with a free easy to use smartphone app to help you’re your recordings. To find out more visit the Butterfly Conservation website.

 

Thank you Larissa!

 

P.S. Drop by the Garden to see if you see some of the same butterflies as Larissa or, to see exotic butterflies and moths that aren't native to our shores, visit the Museum's Sensational Butterflies exhibition. It's in it's last few weeks so be sure to come along before it ends on the 15 September.

2

I was just about to submit today’s blog when Holger rushed back from a walk to say he had seen a huge Tapir – maybe 1.2 metres tall. He said it caused the earth to vibrate! I ran down to the river to catch it crossing - have a look, it’s a bit shaky but I was very excited. It’s very rare to see a Tapir here so I am very chuffed with myself for catching it on film.

 

I also filmed the others’ reaction back at the hut.

 

 

(If you listen carefully you can hear Daniel, once the camera had swung away from the Tapir and was showing my feet on the computer screen, saying, ‘Wow, A Yeti!’)

 

The weather today was sunny and warm – a glorious day, so with my life in my hands, I ventured up a very rickety ladder on to the roof of the hut, which gave me a good view of the forest near by.

 

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

I spent the day with Holger, who is a lichenologist. He talked me through some of the things he has found so far on the trip and why lichens are such an amazing tool to understand an environment such as the one here in the Talamanca Mountains.

 

(My apologies for the low quality of the film but I had to make it smaller to be able to upload it - I'll see if I can update it to a higher resolution version later)

 

At night, once the generator has been turned off we our at the mercy of our head lamps.

 

We enter the world of things that flutter in the night. Beautiful and bizarre, I made a short clip from photos Alex took last night, after lights out.

 

 

And speaking of flutterers – I had a visitor to the laptop today.

 

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My keyboard must be pretty filthy and he/she spent a good 5 mins tasting it!

 

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Species of the day goes to Holger and joins up today’s themes nicely! It is a lichen in the genus Dictyonema (most probably D. sericeum)

 

 

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And it is species of the day because it could be confused (or vice versa) with one of the moths from last night. What amazing camouflage!

 

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Tomorrow, I am going to report on a day with the florwering plant team and attempt a tropical bioblitz.

2

The Museum's Sensational Butterflies exhibition is definitely the fluttery flavour of the week. Not only has an incredibly rare half-female-half-male butterfly hatched in the exhibition's butterfly house very recently, Sir David Attenborough also made a very special appearance there today.

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The rare dual-sex butterfly recently hatched in our Sensational Butterflies exhibition is a great mormon, Papilio memnon, from Asia. One half is female, with paler colours and blue, red and tortoiseshell flecks. The other half is male and is darker.

The discovery of this unusual dual-sex butterfly - such creatures are called gynandromorphs - caused huge excitement in the Sensational Butterflies exhibition when it was originally spotted. Gynandromorphy happens very occasionally across a range of species, from spiders to crabs. The word comes from gyn which is Greek for female and andro which is Greek for male.

 

Luke Brown (below right), manager of the exhibition's butterfly house says:

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'Pure bilateral gynandromorphs are incredibly rare. I have only ever come across two in my whole career. So you can understand why I was bouncing off of the walls when I learned that a stunning half male, half female bilateral gynandromorph had emerged in the puparium at this year’s Sensational Butterflies exhibition. Many permanent butterfly exhibitions will go through their entire existence without ever seeing one of these rarities.’

 

The gynandromorph butterfly, however, may not be around for much longer. These species, sadly, only live for two to three weeks.

 

Read the news story and learn more about the gynandromorph discovery at Sensational Butterflies

 

Our other exciting and famous visitor to Sensational Butterflies today, which some lucky schoolchildren were lucky to catch a glimpse of, was Sir David Attenborough. He was here to help launch the Big Butterfly Count project organised by the Butterfly Conservation group which asks us to help record butterfly sightings from 16 to 31 July.

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Children from The Russell School in Richmond with Sir David Attenborough are charmed by a swallowtail at the Big Butterfly Count launch in our butterfly house this morning.

'Butterflies are one of the stars of the British countryside. Summer just wouldn’t be summer without them' says Sir David

 

It's the second year running for the Big Butterfly Count and last year more than 10,000 people took part with 189,000 butterflies counted This year's results may help reveal the impact of our record-breaking spring weather.

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Our Sensational Butterflies exhibition with its butterfly house full of 100s of live exotic butterflies and moths is highly recommended for a summer holiday visit. Open until 11 September 2011. Tickets £3.50.

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As you approach the butterfly house marvel at the glorous outdoor garden (above) where you can learn butterfly-attracting tips for your own garden. Inside the butterfly house, who knows what else may hatch in the coming months? You might even catch sight of the extraordinary Madagascar moon moth (right). But remember when you visit, it's hot, hot, hot in the house, 'cos that's the way the butterfly beauties like it.

 

Find out about our Sensational Butterflies exhibition

See some exhibition highlights

Buy Sensational Butterflies tickets online

 

The nationwide OPAL Bugs Count also asks you to look for butterflies, in particular the small tortoiseshell butterfly. There are a humungous 380,041 bugs counted so far at the time of writing, but it grows larger every minute!

 

Learn more about the butterfly life cycle

More photos taken at the Sensational Butteflies exhibition this week. Select images to enlarge them

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0

On a summer’s day in the Wildlife Garden and the Museum grounds, you might find several hundred different kinds of insects. If you count the individuals, including the honey bees and ants, then maybe thousands. Who knows, they might even outnumber the daily throng of human visitors to our galleries and exhibitions.

 

Indeed, there are more species of insect in the world than any other  group - experts have named over 1 million. (Some entomologists even  estimate 10 million species.) And not a day goes by for us humans, I’m  sure, without an encounter with at least one or many of them.

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Discover insect life this weekend in the Wildlife Garden as you  explore the meadows by the ponds. There are displays, activities and  tours and also talks in the nearby Darwin Dentre to join.

Come along on Saturday and Sunday, 2 and 3 July, to Insect Weekend in the Wildlife Garden and Darwin Centre and meet some of this multitudinous and diverse group. Find out about the buzzers, flutterers and crawlers from bees to beetles and damelflies to butterflies and moths.

 

On both days, there will be lots of fun activities for all ages, and many displays to explore.

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What will you see at Insect Weekend under the microscope? And tread carefully by the ponds, froglets are about. Select images to enlarge

Recent sightings in the garden includes lots of butterflies, from large white to comma, holly blue and speckled wood varieties.

 

Tiny froglets and toadlets are emerging from the ponds, so you'll need to tread carefully in the grasslands by the ponds. And don't forget the hundreds of tropical butterflies to see next door on the East lawn in our Sensational Butterflies exhibition.

 

Another highlight of the weekend event on Sunday will be botany expert Roy Vickery's tour of the garden about the 'forgotten uses of wild plants'. The 30-minute tours start around 1.45 and 3.15.

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Spiders are distant relatives of insects but that doesn't seem to bother them when it comes to their dietary requirements. Not sure what would escape this spider web photographed recently in the Wildlife Garden!

Visitors will get an insight into the insect diets of other creatures like bats, spiders and frogs. Apparently, at last month's Bat Festival in the Wildlife Garden, a lttle pipestrelle  bat spent nearly an hour flying over and around the main pond, in  pursuit of midges and other small insects. It caused a bit of a stir! And the Wildlife Garden team will be doing a bat survey on Saturday.

 

Max Barclay's Beetlemania talk and his collection highlights on Saturday are sure to be popular and another talk on Sunday, Caught in a Trap, will reveal the secrets of collecting insects. Both free talks are in the Attenborough Studio at 12.30 and 14.30.

 

Find out about the Wildlife Garden online

What is an insect?

Insects (from the Latin insectum) are a class of living creatures within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body (head, thorax, and abdomen), three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae.

 

Find out more about insects and spiders on our Nature Online pages

 

Every day we get enquiries about identifying strange looking insects on our online Identification forum

 

Join the OPAL Bugs Count survey - an amazing 204,205 bugs have already been counted so far.

 

Read the Bug Count launch news story and find out the 6 minibeasts to look out for

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Do you know what bugs are living near you? Are some spiders more common in cities or in the countryside?

 

Help us find out by joining in the new nationwide Bugs Count survey launched today, 8 June, by the Museum and OPAL partnership. The scientists asking for our help want to know what bugs are out there and the differences between what we find in the cities or rural areas.

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Hunt for bugs in soil, short or long grass. Search on paving and outsides of buildings and on plants and shrubs.small-tortoiseshell-butterfly-crop.jpg

On your bugs hunt, keep a special eye out for six specific minibeasts, including the small tortoiseshell butterfly (right), which is in decline. Use the Species Quest bugs sheet to help in your identification.

 

Find out how to join in the OPAL Bugs Count and what resources you'll need

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You'll be surprised at what buggy creatures you can find in towns and the countryside.

 

On the recent Big Nature Count of our Wildlife Garden, we found over 60 species of bugs in a morning and the final count hasn't been done yet. As well as the unusual drab wood soldier fly, Solva marginata, discovered, there was a new Coleophora glaucicolella moth found, not recorded in the garden before. And just the other day, a Museum volunteer out on a field trip in Surrey's Bookham Common, found a population of scarlet malachite beetles, left, one of the UK's rarest insects.

 

Read the news story about the bug count and which six specific minibeasts you should look out for

 

Come along to the Museum's Attenborough Studio this Saturday, 11 June, to hear two Big City Big Hunt talks at 12.30 and 14.30 with our scientists. Afterwards, you can take part in various bug-hunting activities and pick up a Bugs Count pack in the Wildlife Garden.

What's a bug?

The term ‘bug’ is a widely used name for insects. In our Bugs Count we are including non-insect groups such as spiders, centipedes, millipedes and woodlice. These are all collectively part of the group called arthropods and are invertebrates.

 

True bugs are a specific group of insects that include shield bugs, water bugs, aphids, scale insects and others.

 

More bug information

 

Find out about bug identification in our Nature Online section

 

Join the Bug forum

 

Browse our Young naturalists page and enjoy the Big Nature Day video

 

Discover how to identify the Cockshafer May bug and watch the video


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It's always a pleasure to announce the opening of the butterfly house outside on the East lawn. And I am so glad the sun shone today when the Sensational Butterflies exhbitiion was unveiled officially to the public. I know the butterflies inside the butterfly house love it so when it does.

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Sensational Butterflies opened today, 12 April, on the Museum's front lawn

New features in this year's exhibition like the butterfly puddle (below), cocoon handling and a crawl-through chrysalis, are just some of the things to delight children and adults alike.

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Left: The hatchery in the butterfly house, where butterfly life begins. Right: Butterfly puddle, where male butterflies sip

But really it's about the butterflies themselves. Watching the different tropical species flutter around so gracefully in all their glorious colours, shapes and sizes, while you marvel at how they sense the world. Trying to identify species as you spot them - there are handy identification charts around to refer to.

 

Remember to get your butterfly stamper card stamped as you go through each of the five sensory zones. You can pick one up at the ticket desk entrance. Outside in the garden, things are beginning to grow and you can find gardener's tips for attracting butterflies.

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There are over 10 different species of swallowtail butterfly (left) in the house this year and as in previous years, blue morphos (right) are in great abundance.

 

Have a look at the exhibition highlights slideshow to see some of the reasons why you should visit our butterfly exhibition this year.

 

Enjoy the Sensational Butterflies highlights in the slideshow

 

Sensational Butterflies is open all through the summer and I'll be updating you with news along the way.

 

When you leave the butterfly house, check out the butterfly gift shop. If you go with children, of course they won't let you leave until at least one pair of deely boppers is on someone's head.

 

Tickets for the exhibition are £3.50 each and children aged three and under get in free.

 

You can book tickets online or buy them at the butterfly house ticket booth.

 

Another nice thing about today's exhibition opening is the news that a new butterfly species from Peru, the zebra-like ringlet butterfly, has been uncovered in the Museum's collections by Blanca Huertas, our butterfly curator. Splendeuptychia mercedes differs from its closest relatives by having broad stripes on its wings, resembling that of a zebra’s.

 

'Despite it not being the first time that I have identified a new butterfly species, it is still exciting,’ says Blanca. ‘Almost half of the world’s butterfly species are found in South America, and it is amazing we are still finding new ones there.’

 

Read the news story to find out about the new zebra-like ringlet butterfly discovery

 

 

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Yesterday, we welcomed the first young visitors to a special media preview of our Sensational Butterflies exhibition, opening officially next week on Tuesday 12 April. Select images to enlarge them

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Children from the east London Nightingale Primary School (above) got the exclusive chance to enjoy 100s of gorgeous live butterflies getting settled in their newly-decorated butterfly house, which has been magically built and fully foliaged in 5 weeks. Some of the flying beauties even settled on the children, much to their delight, as you can see here. (Actually in the exhibition you're not really supposed to touch the butterflies, but sometimes it's hard to avoid being landed on.)

 

The first batch of about 600 butterflies was released into the house last week and around 1,200 pupae were put in the hatcheries. Today, butterfly house manager Luke Brown tells me: 'There are now about 1,500 butterflies inside. And more will arrive each week throughout the summer. It was a great day for the media event, warm and sunny, and the house is looking fab. The butterflies love it when it's hot and the sun shines outside the house. It makes them much more active inside.'

 

There are 30 butterfly and moth species in the exhibition, but this may increase through the summer months depending on what deliveries we get.

 

Find out about the Sensational Butterflies exhibition

 

Read the blog about some of the new features in the butterfly house this year

 

Read the latest news about the butterfly exhibition

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Luke Brown, the butterfly house manager, releases the first wave of beautiful butterflies in the house this year
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It seems like only a week ago that the front lawn outside the Museum was a mudbath. But now as I write, thanks to sunny dry spells, we have the roof on the butterfly house frame. And work is firmly underway for its metamorphosis into a fully-foliaged and delightfully decorated home for the first live butterflies arriving at the end of the month.

 

Our Sensational Butterflies exhibition opens to the public on 12 April and tickets are on sale now.

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Julia butterfly, Dryas iulia, one of the unusual species coming to Sensational Butterflies. These bright orange beauties have been spotted drinking tears from caiman eyes in Brazil. They are among a few butterflies in the world to do this.

I asked Rob, who's supervising the building work, how it's going: 'The main challenge is the weather – we basically have to turn a muddy field into an exhibition that will take 1000s of people walking over its floor surface, without it turning back into a muddy field again! It’s always a challenge, and every year we tinker with our ideas. The whole exhibition takes 4 to 5 weeks to build. Being a  tropical environment inside the house means that its humid, and the flowers and plants in there need loads of watering every day, which is really the worst thing you can do to a floor which was recently wet mud.'

 

Rob also told me that the butterfly house is actually an agricultural building, the same farmers use to grow crops of tomatoes or flowers. But the material it’s made from is a type of plastic that’s very flame-resistant, this is why it looks different from a normal agricultural building, which would just be covered in polythene.

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The race is on: Turning a muddy field into a beautiful butterfly house and garden must be done in 4 to 5 weeks

It's the fourth year running for the Museum's ever-popular outdoor summer exhibition and this time it's all about the sensory world of butterflies. We'll get to find out what it's like actually being a butterfly and experience things from their perspective as we explore five different sensory zones in the butterfly house.

 

There will be lots of fun things to do indoors - we have no outside play park this year - like touching a real cocoon, crawling through a chrysalis, and even sniffing your way around tropical plants. New additions to the house include the intriguing-sounding butterfly puddle display and the chrysalis crawl-through tunnel.

 

The outdoor garden will have a lot to live up to on last year - it was the envy of the everyone here at the Museum by mid-summer - and will again bustle with window boxes, garden plants and tips for attracting butterflies.

 

So to the beauties of the show. On 30 March, about 600 live sensational butterflies will be released in their new home for the exhibition's opening, along with 1200 pupae. Exciting species to watch out for in the house will be the noisy wing-snapping Cracker butterfly (below right), the Julia butterfly (above) which has been seen drinking tears from caiman eyes in South America, and massive Atlas moths (below left).

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Species to look out for at Sensational Butterflies

Left: Is it a fern? Is it a spider? Nope, it's the Atlas moth, the largest moth species in the world.  Image Neil Gale, Magic of Butterflies House

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Right: What's the noisiest butterfly in the world? Probably the Cracker butterfly, Hamadryas feronia. You might hear some snapping their wings at potential predators on your visit.

 

Select the images to enlarge.

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What are you most squeamish about? Giant cockroaches, spiders, centipedes, scorpions, beetles or even moths?

 

Me, I'd say most of them, especially if they were the size of a hand or more. Luckily, most of the biggest bugs on our planet are usually found in jungle rainforests, savannahs and caves, or in the safety of our Museum collections.

 

However, this summer, some of our largest and heaviest insect and arachnid specimens are being let out to star in the Big Bugs exhibition at our Natural History Museum at Tring which opened yesterday and runs until 21 November.

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The Australian rhinoceros cockroach is the heaviest cockroach in the world. A female was recorded at just over 1 oz (33.45gms).

From the safety of their exhibition display cases, despite my squeamishness, like many others I will find these mega mini-beasts utterly mesmerising to behold, and highly recommend a visit to Big Bugs. The exhibition is free.

Live creatures like the venomous Emperor scorpion and world's longest stick insect at 14 inches, are on show alongside many rare and incredible specimens from the Natural History Museum's collection. It's the first time that all these enormous bug specimens have been displayed together.


And it's not just the scary bugs and spiders you'll meet, but eye-catching beauties like the delicate Helicopter damselfly and Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly, the largest butterfly in the world.

 

There will also be creepy-crawly activities for kids at the exhibition and other bug-related activities at Tring throughout the summer season.

 

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The docile giant leaf bush-cricket from New Guinea has a maximun wingspan of 11 inches

 

The inspiration behind the exhibition is a recently published Museum book, Big Bugs Life-size by our Museum entomologist and bug expert, George Beccaloni, which features actual life-size pictures of each marvellous mini-beast included.

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My favourites in the book are the nocturnal rhinoceros cockroach, which is the world's heaviest cockroach, and the giant leaf bush cricket with a wing span of a whopping 11 inches. But the white witch moth, below right, tops that with 12 inches and the greatest wingspan of any living insect.

 

Read the news story about the Big Bugs exhibition and book

 

The Natural History Museum at Tring is located in Hertfordshire.

 

Explore insects and spiders on our website. You can identify and discuss bugs on our bug forum

 

 

 

Click on the images to enlarge them.