Wednesday 17 June 2015

A Fossil Butterfly

Yesterday to the Natural History Museum, Alfred Waterhouse's vast Germanic cathedral of Nature, presided over by the God-like figure of Charles Darwin enthroned atop the grand stairs that rise from the vast nave. Number One Grandson, who is very nearly three, was awed by the grand building (which he describes as a 'palace') and by the giant Brontosaurus (or whatever they're calling it now) and the Blue Whale; but the big successes of the visit were outside the museum itself: the beautifully designed garden of English wild flowers and trees, with ponds and curving paths, at the western corner of the grounds - and the butterfly house. Called Sensational Butterflies, this is a large, steamy heated marquee (complete with jungle sounds) where a dazzling array of spectacular tropical butterflies are flying free and feasting on nectar and a picnic of rather worse-for-wear oranges and bananas. Number One Grandson was entranced by it all - it looks as if there could be another butterfly fancier in the family. His great-grandfather - my father, who was the first - would be delighted...
 I also learnt about - but, alas, didn't see - the astonishing fossil butterfly, Lithopsyche antiqua, discovered on the Isle of Wight in the 1880s. Read about it here - and enjoy the magical image of a creature of the utmost delicacy somehow preserved by fossilisation. Most fossils leave me cold - they seem like alien roadkill - but the thought of this butterfly, still so clearly recognisable, fluttering around on what is now the Isle of Wight some 34 million years ago sends a tingle down my spine.

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