NEWSLETTER No. 42 - Spring 1999
WEST MIDLANDS BRANCH, BUTTERFLY CONSERVATION
Educational tours at Stratford Butterfly Farm
The Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm has an educational
programme which caters for a wide range of age groups and abilities. Guided
tours can be booked for groups of over 10 people, for which discounts on the
current entry price are available. If there are over 30 in a group, then it
would be spilt between two or more guides. Tours can be taken every day of the
year except Christmas Day (we need one day off a year). The busiest time of year
is June, when most schools have their trips. At this time of year, due to the
workload, only an hour tour can be taken (we see 25,000 school children each
year). At other times a tour lasts an average of one and a half hours.
Groups range from under 5's nursery classes to old age pensioner clubs, from people with severe learning difficulties to postgraduates from universities, and from the local school to foreign students from any part of the world. Basically each group is given the same tour but the amount of detail delivered by the guide depends entirely on the desire of the group to absorb information.
A typical tour would consist of the following :-
The group is gathered into the Education Room and told to take off coats etc. due to the heat that they will experience once inside the greenhouse. The guide will then introduce him/herself to the group and give a short introduction to the Butterfly Farm. If the group needs to be split, the first part will be taken off on tour and the rest will be kept entertained by their guide until the first base is clear. It can get difficult to keep an excited bunch of 7 year olds interested while they wait for two or even three groups to pass through the first section. Many schools now bring the whole school at once rather than just one class due to the high cost of coach travel.
Depending on the topic that is being studied by the class, we can play various games with them whilst they wait to go on their tour. A class studying rain forests would play the deforestation game, where the loss of animals due to fragmented habitats is illustrated. A class studying mini-beasts may play rainbow valley, which shows how green and brown caterpillars are better camouflaged than red or yellow ones. There are several other topics which we can also demonstrate, sometimes the games are so successful that the children have to be stopped so that they can start their tour proper.
The first stop on a guided tour is the Fruit Table. Here, the group is given a chance to acclimatise to the conditions of the tropical house while they have a good look around. There are large fruit juice drinking butterflies sitting on the rotting fruit which is on the fruit table. This is a good place to go through the anatomy of butterflies: the antennae; eyes; proboscis; legs; wings etc. can be pointed out and the function of each explained. After a chance for questions, the group is moved on to the next room.
In the Caterpillar area the life cycle of butterflies is demonstrated, with living examples of eggs and caterpillars. The first half of the tour ends at the Emerging cage where the terms pupa, chrysalis, cocoon and metamorphosis are explained, with reference to the items on display in the cage.
Back in the Main Flight Area, the group is divided up into small parties so that each can become rain forest explorers. They are given ten minutes to find at least 10 different species of butterfly, 2 different species of fish, at least 1 bird and an iguana. After ten minutes, the guide collects the whole group together to see if they have achieved this goal. He may then help find some of the animals that may have been hiding, before moving on to the second half of the tour.
In the Insect section, the group gets a chance to look at many different types of insects and other creatures. The differences between complete and incomplete metamorphosis are shown, as is the differences between different orders of insect. By counting the legs of the other invertebrates in this room the six legged nature of the class insecta can be reinforced. Towards the end of this room, there are a few vertebrate displays and the spineless nature of mini-beasts can be demonstrated against these backboned animals. If the group is well behaved, then one or two of the more docile animals in the room can be taken out of their cages for holding.
The tour ends in the spider area where a whole range of different spiders and scorpions are kept. The most dangerous ones are in a double skinned and alarmed tank. Here the difference between a spider which has two parts to its body and 8 legs can be shown against an insect that has three body parts and 6 legs. One of the scorpion displays has a sun bed lamp above it so that when a button is pressed it lights up and the normal fluorescent light goes out. This shows the true ultra violet colour of scorpions that we cannot normally see, but many other animals can.
At the end of this room, there is a chance for any questions from the group and most school parties get asked various questions by the guide to ascertain that some learning has been achieved during the whole tour.
When this is complete, if the group has been very good, the arachnophobes are invited to leave for the gift shop while the brave souls left behind can get much closer to a tarantula.
Thus ends a typical educational tour around the Butterfly Farm. In the middle of the summer term there is probably another group waiting to get into spider room and another waiting to start their tour with the guide who has just finished. (All guides also have a full time job to do elsewhere in the Butterfly Farm).