Outreach activities in White Carpathians

As our project continues, so does our centre (Education and information centre Bílé Karpaty) continue to create educational and teaching aids. But how to test if these tools work as we imagined? The best way, of course, is to try them out directly while working with the children for whom they are primarily intended. The best time for such a trial is when setting up the Apollo Gardens, which have been introduced on this website before (for example, in the article Two Apollo Gardens built).

We have managed to build four such gardens in the past year, each in partnership with a school. All four gardens are raised beds that we have constructed in a pre-selected location. The rest was up to the children. With undisguised joy and enthusiasm, the children became gardeners and filled the bed with soil and levelled its surface. They then placed larger and smaller stones, which they had brought themselves, on a part of the bed to create a small rock garden. They poured silica sand into the slits between the stones.

Then came the main thing. Since the Apollo Gardens are meant to be an environment for both adult butterflies and their caterpillars, the prepared bed needed to be enlivened with nectarous plants for the adult butterflies and host plants for the caterpillars. The children planted white stonecrop plants in the sand of the rock garden and randomly planted small common houseleek among them. Although it is not an important food plant for caterpillars, caterpillars can occasionally use it and it is a nice diversion to the rock garden. Next to the rock garden, the children planted great stonecrop – another important food plant for caterpillars.

What about the rest of the bed area? The children had already guessed that the flowering plants that the adult butterflies need to live would come here. We provided meadow plant mix seeds for this purpose. A significant part of this mixture consisted of seeds of the Apollo´s favourite plants (various pink and purple flowering plants) and the rest of the seeds were other meadow plants to make the bed more varied, attractive to other pollinators and to keep it flowering for as long as possible.

An indispensable part of creating each bed was the time we spent with the children talking about the life cycle of butterflies, their importance in nature and other things. Of course, we also introduced in detail our main hero, the Apollo butterfly, the reasons why it has disappeared from our nature and how we can help it. At this point it was also our turn to try out some of the tools we had already created. A great success was always achieved by the Apollo pupa, several meters long, which the children climbed through, and on the other side, an adult Apollo emerged from them. Equally enthusiastic was the preparation of a sweet drink (represented nectar in flowers for the adult butterflies) and tattoos with all the developmental stages of the Apollo.

We have not only used the tools and materials to build Apollo Gardens, but also at several other events for the public. The children enjoyed the activities and we believe they will not forget Apollo right away. Among other things, it was confirmed to us that even ordinary coloring according to a template still has its charm and can entertain children.

The beauty of butterfly wings

Butterfly wings are the most striking part of a butterfly’s body and are certainly the reason why butterflies are so popular with people and why they are so attractive. The combination of all sorts of colours on butterfly wings is not just a random freak of nature, but it has several purposes.

One of these is recognition between individuals of the same species. At mating time, the male attracts the female by the colour combination on its wings. Last but not least, the colours on the wings serve as protection against predators. For example, some dull-coloured moths perch on tree bark during the day and, thanks to their inconspicuous colouring, blend in perfectly with the ground and escape the eyes of predators. Other butterflies have a warning colouration. Our hero Apollo will display its red-meshed hindwings in an attempt to scare off predators.

But what makes butterfly wings so colourful? It may sound surprising, but the colour is caused by thousands and thousands very tiny formations, a few tenths of a millimetre in size, which are shaped like scales. Even the scientific name of Lepidoptera butterflies is derived from these scales. In fact, the word Lepidoptera is a compound of the two Greek words lepís (scale) and pterós (wings) and was first used by the father of scientific nomenclature for plants and animals, Carl Linné.

Eye with scales on the hindwing of the Apollo

The scales are coloured with various pigments and this is one of the reasons for the colourfulness of butterfly wings. In addition, in some butterflies, the edges and various surface structures of the scales refract and reflect light and this causes them to shine.

The scales are stacked side by side on the butterfly’s wing and overlap each other; they are arranged like shingles on a roof. In some butterflies the number of scales per square millimetre can be more than 500, but in Apollo the number of scales is smaller, giving the wings a translucent appearance. If you ever catch a butterfly in your hand and get “coloured dust” on your hand, it is these scales that you have wiped off the butterfly’s wing.

The edge of the wing of Apollo. The scales are not as densely packed here, so the wing margin has a translucent appearance

The scales are therefore responsible for the colour and lustre of the butterfly’s wings. But they also have other functions. They are filled with air, which makes them very light and helps butterflies fly. They also serve as excellent thermal insulation. Scientists believe that this is the main reason why butterflies evolved scales. This is because they are not only on the butterfly’s wings, but also on the butterfly’s chest and other parts of the butterfly’s body, helping to maintain the high body temperature needed during flight.

Enlarged scales that are arranged like shingles on a roof