Magazine article Geographical

Out and About

Magazine article Geographical

Out and About

Article excerpt

Annabel Short is all of a flutter as she pays a visit to the London Butterfly House and its neighbour, the Aquatic Experience

If you feel as though there aren't as many butterflies as there used to be, and that you haven't seen many of the dainty creatures this summer, it is not too late. A wander around the London Butterfly House reveals the colourful and fascinating world of butterflies and nature at its best.

A large tropical greenhouse built by Clive Farrol is home to 50 species of butterfly from all over the world and can contain up to 1,000 individual butterflies at one time, co-existing in a carefully balanced ecosystem. And balanced it needs to be, as butterflies and their caterpillars are fussy about their food. The owl butterfly for example will only eat banana plants.

You can get right up close to the butterflies' detailed markings, as they go about their daily business oblivious to human visitors, to the point of landing on us. They range from the vibrant blue morpha butterfly to the delicate glasswing, to Indonesia's giant atlas moth.

The lifespan of each ranges from a few days to eight months, which means every square metre of the Butterfly House is busy with all stages of the life cycle at any one time. Turn over a leaf and you will find its underside covered with caterpillars and pupae, while nearby a butterfly the size of your hand feeds off rotting fruit and another falls prey to a hungry spider.

Artists often ask to take away the dead butterflies to use their patterns for inspiration, and the Butterfly House's unique atmosphere has been used for filming projects as diverse as the Harry Potter film and Tai Chi videos.

Don't miss the `emerging' cages, where pupae from Thailand, the Philippines and Costa Rica are kept until the butterflies free themselves and their wings harden ready for flight. The Butterfly House is also home to a charismatic group of parrots and a colony of soldier ants. …

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