The Natural History Museum's butterfly house returns for a sixth year in 2014 to a specially constructed tropical enclosure on the Museum's east lawn. Visitors can come face-to-face with tropical butterflies, including the swallowtail, blue morpho, the moon moth and many others originating from Africa, Southeast Asia and North and South America, and take part in games, activities and challenges that teach more about the sensory world of the fluttering creatures.
Most of the creatures in the Natural History Museum have been dead for a very, very long time. But here, in this humid tent on its lawn, you can see the most beautiful birth sequence in the natural world: a butterfly wriggling out of its chrysalis, pumping up its damp wings then taking flight and landing – if you're lucky – on you, instead of a flower.
Each year, hundreds of tropical chrysalises arrive at Heathrow from all over the world, destined for the tender care of the Museum’s expert lepidopterist Luke Brown – also a skilled butterfly midwife, who watches lovingly over their metamorphoses, and steps in with a pin to help the little insects free of their leaf-shaped pods if they’re struggling. In the wild, only 10 to 15 percent of them will make this extraordinary transformation from hairy caterpillar to nectar-sipping glider: here, the success rate is more like 85 percent.
Even if you don’t catch one in the act of emerging, this is a truly sensational environment: the damp, hot air is thick with colourful butterflies, and the sweet scents of fruit and flowers that attract them. There are so many butterflies that you have to take care not to trample them underfoot (I’d think twice before letting a toddler loose among these ultra-delicate live exhibits). But this is a wonderful chance to learn, via close-up observation, about these creatures, and to immerse yourself in every stage of their brief, gorgeous lives.