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Everything you need to know about butterflies

As we get ready to open our Butterfly House, our Horniman volunteer Karen shares some of her best pictures and favourite facts about butterflies with us.

Like many, I adore butterflies, but I seem to see them all too rarely these days. As a child, growing up in Liverpool, I was totally smitten by butterflies. Summer after summer butterflies would appear in abundance in our garden and back then we didn't have mobile phones or tablets, so I would excitedly look them up in reference books I'd borrowed from my local library; from the humble cabbage white to the more exotic looking red admiral, and beautiful tortoise shell.  But these days, maybe because I spend most of my week either in an office or on the underground heading to the office, I’m in relatively few situations where I get the chance to see them. 

I am very fortunate to have a balcony attached to my flat; a small outdoor space of my own where I've tried to create my very own miniature wildlife oasis for insects and birds. I eagerly and regularly buy plants from my local flower shop in the hope that I might attract bees and butterflies, but sadly my gardening skills leave a lot to be desired and invariably my plants die, leaving me seeing very few, if any, of these visitors to my balcony. 

So in order to get my butterfly fix, I've recently been making an annual trip to the Natural History Museum's butterfly house. This was, in fact, the only place locally I knew where I could be close to and enjoy the company of these astonishing little creatures.  But that was until now, as this is about to change.

I have to say that I could barely contain my excitement when I heard that the Horniman Museum was building its very own butterfly house! So in anticipation of this summer’s opening, I would like to share with you some facts I have learned and pictures that I have taken of our colourful garden friends. It’s difficult to do them justice, but I hope you like them.

There are 4 stages in the life of a butterfly and in each stage, the butterfly is completely different:  

They start their life as egg 

  • Butterfly Eggs, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

They then become a caterpillar 

  • Caterpillar, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Then a chrysalis in which the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly and emerges

  • Butterfly Emerging, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King
 

The butterfly then looks for a mate to reproduce and the cycle begins all over again

  • Courtship, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King
 

Butterflies are diurnal

They are active during the day whilst sleeping at night, hiding away under leaves, or between rocks. 

  • Butterfly 1, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Butterflies hibernate

It may come as a surprise but some butterflies actually hibernate over the Winter months and some survive this period either as a caterpillar or pupa. 

  • Butterfly 2, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Butterflies don't have noses or lungs

Adult butterflies, as well as caterpillars, breathe through a series of tiny openings along the sides of their bodies, called "spiracles." From each spiracle, there is a tube called a "trachea" which carries oxygen into the body. Butterflies smell using their antennae.

  • Butterfly 5, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Thank you for reading. And just for fun, can you find out which species of butterflies are in the pictures above?

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