Butterflies through time title page

A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies

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:

Step-by-step guide to drawing a butterfly 1
Step-by-step sheet 1 to draw a butterfly (c) Eleanor Chaney
Step-by-step guide to draw a butterfly 2
Step-by-step sheet 2 for drawing a butterfly (c) Eleanor Chaney

Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni

Brimstone butterfly
Brimstone (c) University of Cambridge

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.

Factsheet showing drawings of Brimstone butterfly lifecycle
Brimstone factsheet and guildelines for drawing (c) Eleanor Chaney

Large Blue, Phengaris arion

Large blue butterfly
Large Blue (c) University of Cambridge

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 Blue butterfly factsheet
Large Blue factsheet and guidelines for drawing (c) Eleanor Chaney

Large Copper, Lycaena dispar

Large Copper (c) University of Cambridge

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.

:arge Copper factsheet
Large Copper factsheet and guidelines for drawing (c) Eleanor Chaney

Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina

Meadow Brown (c) University of Cambridge

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.

Meadow Brown factsheet and guidelines for drawing (c) Eleanor Chaney

Peacock, Aglais io

Peacock butterfly
Peacock (c) University of Cambridge

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.

Peacock factsheet
Peacock factsheet and guidelines for drawing (c) Eleanor Chaney

Purple Emperor, Apatura iris

Purple Emperor Butterfly
Purple Emperor (c) University of Cambridge

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.

Purple Emperor factsheet
Purple Emperor factsheet and guidelines for drawing (c) Eleanor Chaney

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta

Red Admiral illustration
Red Admiral (c) Eleanor Chaney

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.

Red Admiral factsheet
Red Admiral factsheet and guidelines for drawing (c) Eleanor Chaney

Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria

Speckled Wood butterfly
Speckled Wood (c) University of Cambridge

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.

Speckled Wood factsheet and guidelines for drawing (c) Eleanor Chaney

Swallowtail, Papilio machaon

Swallowtail butterfly
Swallowtail (c) University of Cambridge

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.

Swallowtail factsheet and guidelines for drawing (c) Eleanor Chaney

Caterpillar Food Plant Colouring Sheets

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