SPARKLING BUTTERFLY COLLAGES AND SEEING BUTTERFLIES CLOSE UP AT RHS WISLEY
Every winter RHS Wisley hosts the Butterflies in the Glasshouse where free-flying exotic butterflies can be experienced close-up in the tropical part of the vast glasshouse. Last year I forgot to book for half-term week and although we did go, the queue was so enormous that we gave it a miss. This year I booked our free tickets well in advance which was especially expedient as my younger daughter’s topic this coming half-term is ‘Wriggle and Crawl’ and she had been set homework of making a butterfly collage.
The queue for the butterflies was just as long as ever this year and the car parks were chock-a-block so I would definitely recommend booking; queuing for ages with children is never fun, especially if they are fairly small. Inside the tropical glasshouse the air is damp and very warm so be prepared to carry a pile of coats! The butterflies flit about, sometimes landing on lucky visitors and can be observed and photographed at close range on leaves, trees, flowers and on the fruit provided at the feeding stations. They are really beautiful and it is always a rewarding visit. There is also a puparium in one of the side rooms in the glasshouse and you don’t need to queue or book to see the rows of chrysalis in the cases, some with emerging butterflies drying their wings. Metamorphosis remains one of the most marvellous everyday miracles. Inside the chrysalis the caterpillar’s digestive juices break down its body from the inside out until most of it has become a sort of goo made up of imaginal cells which are undifferentiated, meaning that they can become any type of cell. Some of the caterpillar’s central parts remain in place during this process, however, but adapt to suit the new creature developing inside the cocoon. The tracheal tubes, for examples, stay in place and get bigger because the butterfly will need more oxygen than the caterpillar for flying about to feed and attract a mate. The gut also remains but it shrinks and develops into a more complicated organ because the butterfly needs less food than the very hungry caterpillar. It’s amazing and there is loads online about them; try Wonderopolis or Ask an Entomologist.
The next day we got to work on the collages; my elder daughter choosing to make her own, smaller, collage just for fun rather than for homework. Smaller was definitely sensible; the assignment asked for a butterfly at least A4 in size and we had a largish piece of blue card that my daughter wanted to use. I actually folded it in half and cut out a butterfly shape for her as she didn’t feel confident doing this bit. The resultant butterfly looked good but turned out to be way too big. We have a lot of craft supplies which my daughters wanted to use to decorate the butterflies (buttons, stickers, beads, gems) but before the large butterfly was even nearly covered our supplies were running low so we used shapes punched out of patterned paper and colourful postage stamps which looked great but didn’t complete the project. The next afternoon I had to make an emergency trip to our local high street to pick up extra supplies from The Works and Wilkinsons. A packet or two of little buttons won’t break the bank but in the end I came home with an embarrassingly costly selection of adornments, most of which did get used up finishing the epic butterfly (I’m fairly sure it was an extremely hungry caterpillar before its metamorphosis!): stick-on pearls and crystals; more buttons; and card and wooden butterfly shapes). It looked pretty amazing; the most glamous butterfly that I ever met but she did cost a fortune and took ages to make! The collages were a lot of fun but small, delicate butterflies are probably the best plan…