If you visit the Museum of Zoology Butterflies through Time exhibition (from 15 March – September 2022), you will be greeted by a magnificent collaborative artwork created by children from three Cambridgeshire Schools – The Grove Primary in Cambridge, Lantern Primary in Ely and Lionel Walden Primary in Doddington – led by artist Eleanor Chaney. Find out more about Eleanor and her project The Library of Nature here. Here Eleanor shares with you how to draw your own butterfly, exploring features of these beautiful insects as she goes:
As well as butterflies, the display includes recreations of caterpillars and chrysalises in paper. Here Eleanor explains how to make these:
Templates and Reference Images
To help you with your butterfly drawings, here are the templates and reference images Eleanor has put together for nine of the butterfly species explored by the Butterflies Through Time exhibition.
Here’s a summary of the steps to draw a butterfly described in the videos:
Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni
Brimstones are some of the first butterflies to emerge in the spring, with the adults able to hunker down and survive through the winter. The male brimstone has yellow wings, the female pale green. The caterpillars of this species feed on the leaves of buckthorn and alder buckthorn.
Find out more on our Whites and Yellow Butterflies blog post.
Large Blue, Phengaris arion
The large blue has a fascinating life cycle. Caterpillars begin life eating the flowerheads of wild thyme, but after moulting a few times their diet changes to ant grubs which they feed on by tricking red ants into taking them into their nests and treating them as their own offsping.
You can find out more about this species and its conservation on our website.
Large Copper, Lycaena dispar
The large copper went extinct in the UK around 150 years ago. It lived on wetland habitats like the fens, but when they were drained for agriculture, the butterflies disappeared too. Caterpillars feed on great water dock, and to bring this species back to Britain, their wetland habitats need to be bigger and be able to support these plants.
Find out more about this species and its conservation on our website.
Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina
This butterfly is found across the UK and is common in many habitats, especially grasslands. In fact, it is perhaps the most common butterfly in this country. Caterpillars feed on a wide range of grasses.
Find out more about this species with our Brown Butterflies blog post, and on our website.
Peacock, Aglais io
Peacock butterflies are a common sight in many habitats, including gardens. It gets its name from the eyespot patterns on the wings that look similar to the patterns in the tail of a peacock. These eyespots serve to startle predators, while the undersides of the wings are coloured to look like a dried leaf, providing camouflage. Caterpillars feed on nettles, so to support this species don’t be too tidy with your garden and keep a nettle patch for wildlife.
Find out more about peacocks on our Aristrocrat Butterfly blog post.
Purple Emperor, Apatura iris
This is a large, impressive butterfly but rare, found only in large woodland areas in southern England where they spend much of the time high in the treetops. It is the male purple emperor that has the purple colour, the female is more brown in colour with patterns in white and orange. Caterpillars typically feed on goat willow.
Find out more about this species on our website.
Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta
Red admirals are migratory butterflies, flying to warmer climes in mainland Europe to escape the cold of winter. In spring and summer, individuals flying north to the UK, laying eggs soon after they arrive. As for peacocks, the main food plants of the caterpillars are nettles.
Find out more about this species with our Aristocrat Butterfly blog post.
Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria
This species flies in woodland habitats with dappled sunlight. Males will wait for females in a patch of sunlight, which they defend, rising up to meet any intruder. If the intruder is a female, they pursue her to mate. If the intruder is another male, they will perform a spiralling display to fend them off. The female will lay her eggs on a variety of different grass species.
Find out more about this species with our Brown Butterflies blog post.
Swallowtail, Papilio machaon
The swallowtail has pale yellow wings with black veins and a characteristic shape. In the UK, this spectacular butterfly is found only in the Norfolk Broads today, but was more widespread in the past. Caterpillars feed on milk parsley, a species that itself has declined with the loss of wetland habitats.
Find out more about swallowtails on our website.
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