The Butterfly Gallery

Article | Updated 4 weeks ago

The Western Australian Museum is getting ready to build a New Museum for Western Australia, and an initial step in this process is to decant the thousands of specimens and objects from the WA Museum – Perth into safe storage at the Collections and Research Centre (CRC) in Welshpool. This article explores what the decant of the Butterfly Gallery will involve, with input from Western Australian Museum Curator of Entomology, Nikolai Tatarnic, and collection manager Brian Hanich. 

Decant Plans: the first steps towards Western Australia’s New Museum

The beautiful Butterfly Gallery was originally erected in 1993. It was created and installed by now retired curator Terry Houston, and collection manager Brian Hanich. The Butterfly Gallery was produced after the resounding success of the temporary exhibition “Jewels of the Rainforest” in 1989.

Australian Butterflies - Nymphs

Australian Butterflies - Nymphs, Family Nymphalidae
Image copyright Pat Baker, WA Museum 

The collection on display includes 1600 specimens housed in 11 display cases. The specimens come from the Bob Hay collection and the Jan Pasternak collection, both of which were purchased especially for the Butterfly Gallery.

The butterflies on display include examples of almost all 113 Western Australian species, plus many others, including hundreds of large tropical species, such as the so-called “Birdwing” and “Blue Morpho” butterflies (incidentally, birdwings are among the few insects protected under CITES).

Australian Butterflies - Swallowtails and Birdwings

Australian Butterflies - Swallowtails and Birdwings
Image copyright Pat Baker, WA Museum 

Brian Hanich and current Curator of Entomology Nikolai Tatarnic will dismantle the Butterfly Gallery starting in January 2016. The process will involve carefully removing each specimen and associated label, and placing them sequentially into unit trays, which will in turn be placed in a set of 52 metal drawers.

To keep specimens from getting damaged, the decant team will “cross-pin” them, which involves pinning the specimen on either side of the abdomen. This will prevent the specimens from swiveling around and getting damaged during transport.

As they are filled, the drawers will be carefully placed in a metal cabinet and, once full, this cabinet will be transported to the CRC.

To ensure that no pest insects are transported into the main collection, the cabinet will be placed in a walk-in freezer for 2 weeks at -40 degrees Celsius as soon as it is delivered to the CRC.

The butterfly collection will remain at the CRC until the New Museum opens in 2020.

To hear an interview about the Butterfly Gallery, click here.

Watch more on the Butterfly Gallery Decant