What gives you wings?


Our Natural History curator Patricia Francis has been very busy over the last few weeks repairing some of our butterflies and moths. We have over 27,000 specimens in Gallery Oldham’s collection both from the British Isles and abroad. This April Patricia attended specialised training at the University of Reading facilitated by Simon Moore, who works as a freelancer conservator of Natural History. Joined by other Natural History curators and museum technicians from all around Europe, Patricia learnt how to repair insect bodies and wings.


Gallery Oldham’s butterfly and moth collection is hundreds of years old with some of the earliest specimens dating from the 1840s. The collection is very important for scientific research; labels given to specimens at the time they were collected help scientists to understand changes to the species over the last 150 years. For example, the University of York recently contacted us for information about a moth called the Dark Bordered Beauty. Numbers of this rare moth – found only in York – have tumbled in recent years; their research is helping to protect this species from extinction by analysing changes to their habitat.


Over decades the butterfly and moth collection has been moved into several different storage facilities. Due to their age and fragile nature specimens can be easily damaged by movement and unfortunately some have lost their wings or bodies whilst being transported. Working with gravity, tweezers and tiny amounts of specialist PH neutral glue Patricia has secured the loose wing back onto the thorax of this butterfly. Every process takes approximately 1 hour drying time and each repair takes a lot of patience and attention to detail. As well as their colour the beauty of butterflies is created by the symmetry of their form. Seeing them complete again is extremely satisfying.