I am a person with many irrational fears. Heights, flying in airplanes, demon possession, the dark, talking to strangers on the phone. All of these things cause me far more anxiety than they do the average person. But nothing, I mean nothing, is worse than bugs. Spiders to be specific, but pretty much any sort of multi-legged creature that skulks around in the dark without making a sound is my worst nightmare. There are only five members of the bug species I can tolerate – ladybugs, caterpillars, rolly pollies (no idea what people outside of the southern US call these things), lightning bugs, and butterflies. Everything else either has me dousing the immediate area in extra strength insect killer or locking myself in another room while someone else neutralizes the threat.
Even though there are a few I can tolerate, putting myself in a situation where I am effectively surrounded by these so-called “safe bugs” is still not my idea of a good time, so why would I willingly visit the Sensational Butterflies exhibition at the Natural History Museum? Because I am a
crazy person parent. And we do these sorts of unpleasant things for our kids. I’m kidding, it’s not that unpleasant. Unless the idea of being in an enclosed area where hundreds of butterflies can fly around freely and regularly land on you is your own personal version of hell, then it’s definitely unpleasant. But we must think of the children, you guys, because they love this stuff. And being able to see and photograph butterflies up close is pretty freaking cool, too.
Located on the lawn outside of the Natural History Museum, the Sensational Butterflies exhibition comes to London every April to September. Lexie and I visited during our last summer in London before moving to Singapore, and despite my initial hesitancy about the whole thing, we both had a really good time. The tent the butterflies are housed in is actually quite small, so if you want to roam around comfortably, I recommend visiting the butterfly exhibition on a weekday if you can.
Unlike the museum itself which is free to enter, the butterfly exhibition has an entrance fee of just under £6. And be prepared to shed some layers when you go in, because it is hot. At first this is a welcome surprise, especially if you are visiting on one of London’s characteristically cold and drizzly days, but after a while it starts feeling thick and sticky and far less comfortable. Because of the heat and humidity, we were only able to stay for about an hour, but an hour is plenty of time to see everything in the exhibition.
Some things not to miss – the wall of chrysalises where caterpillars are in all different stages of transforming into butterflies (we even got to see one as it emerged which was pretty cool), the feeding area (apparently owl butterflies like oranges just as much as I do), and if you’re lucky, one of the butterfly house volunteers might be giving a talk or demonstration about the many things they do everyday to care for the butterflies. Otherwise the exhibition is mostly just a maze of paths through a luscious, rainforest-like environment.
It’s fun to walk through and try to find all the different kinds of butterflies they take care of in here, but you do have to be careful. The butterflies land everywhere – on the plants, on the ground, on you – and so watching where you step or lean is important. I wasn’t a huge fan of having butterflies land on me, but normally all it took was gently blowing on them to get them to fly away. That was not true of the stage five clinger who adamantly refused to leave the back of my jeans, though. I walked through the entire exhibit without bending my leg because I didn’t want to hurt him, but didn’t exactly want to touch him either. (Luckily, there are employees around who will remove them from you if you don’t want to do it yourself.)
If you’ve got school-aged kids, the Natural History Museum’s butterfly exhibition is definitely something you’ll want to take them to. Taking younger kids might not be the best idea, though, since so much caution has to be taken to keep from harming the butterflies. And, obviously, anyone with a butterfly phobia should probably stick with checking out the non-living creatures inside the Natural History Museum instead. This year’s Sensational Butterflies exhibition is open daily until 17 September. Tickets can be bought at the exhibition entrance or online at the link below!
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