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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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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