In a meticulous effort to preserve a vibrant kaleidoscope of the world’s rarest and most exquisite butterflies, experts in Leeds have unveiled an impressive collection at the Leeds Discovery Centre. The assortment comprises hundreds of species from across the globe, some of which were gathered by explorers and scientists over a century ago.

This precious collection is currently undergoing a thorough counting and conservation process in anticipation of exclusive behind-the-scenes tours at the centre during the school half-term holidays.

Among the captivating butterflies and moths showcased at the centre is an extraordinary Blue Morpho, one of the world’s largest butterflies, boasting wings spanning from five to eight inches. Originating from Central and South America, the butterfly’s striking blue hue results from light reflecting off microscopic scales on its wing’s surface.

Notable additions to the collection include Sloane’s Urania, an extinct moth species adorned with iridescent red, blue, and green markings, believed to have vanished in the late 1890s due to habitat loss in Jamaica. Named after English collector Sir Hans Sloane, whose collection laid the foundation for the British Museum, these specimens offer a glimpse into a bygone era.

The collection also features Rajah Brooke’s birdwings, an electric green and black butterfly native to the rainforests of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Natuna, and Sumatra. Seized from smugglers attempting to illegally import them into the UK, these specimens underscore the ongoing threats to endangered species.

Clare Brown, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ curator of natural sciences, said: “Butterflies and moths are among the most visually stunning insects in the world, and you can clearly see from the scope and beauty of our collection how much they have fascinated humans through the ages.

“Seeing these unique, incredible colours and shapes for the first time in the wild must have been a genuinely unforgettable and captivating experience.

“Sadly the fact that many of the species have since become endangered or even extinct also demonstrates both their fragility and the importance of learning from collections like ours, so we can ensure these remarkable insects and their precarious habitats are protected.”

Collecting specimens of animals and insects became a popular pursuit for Western explorers and scientists from around the seventeenth century.

Wealthy collectors would pay handsomely for specimens brought back from expeditions, and many of the world’s largest and oldest collections were created this way.

However, more recently, awareness about the impact of collecting on insects and their habitats has led to more sustainable and ethical methods of study and collection.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “Our world class museums and galleries collection includes some incredible examples of animals and insects from around the world.

“This gives visitors the opportunity to both learn about them and to consider the impact our actions, collectively and individually, have on the world around us and how we can better protect our planet and its vulnerable species.”

Free, behind-the-scenes tours of Leeds Discovery centre are taking place over the February half term week and must be booked in advance.

To find out more about times and how to book, please visit: What’s on at Leeds Discovery Centre – Leeds Museums & Galleries