Minibeast Metropolis houses one of the largest insect collections in the Uk. It is also home to our snakes, reptiles, amphibians and other invertebrates.
Mini-Beast Metropolis houses one of the largest insect collections in the UK.
Come and see these fascinating creatures up close. You can even take part in our Meet the Mini-Beast handling sessions during the school holidays. Keep an eye on our news section for more information and on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. Handling sessions are also available with our guided tours, available to pre booked groups of 10 or more paying visitors.
Below you will find some of species that we keep here at the butterfly farm. Please be aware that these species may change from time to time and may not always be on display all year round.
Exciting news!.........the ants are back, and this time we have not one but two Leafcutter Ant Colonies: Atta cephalotes and Acromyrmex octospinosus. The ant colonies are on display in Mini-Beast Metropolis.
Our ant colonies have been with us for two years now and never cease to amaze our visitors. The largest of our two colonies is a species known scientifically as Atta cephalotes, they are a leaf cutting ant native to central and south America.
There are many different species of leaf cutting ant, but Atta are one of the largest in terns of how many individuals can be produced by a single queen. Atta cephalotes can have as many as 5 million ants living in just one colony!
Here at the Stratford Butterfly Farm, we have developed a rather unusual way to display our ants. The main colony lives in an enormous glass terrarium which allows you to closely view all the different jobs being carried out by the busy worker ants. To find their food, the ants must climb up and out of their enclosure using a long walkway made from rope, which is suspended from the ceiling and above our visitors’ heads! They must use the walkway to cross the room (while fascinated visitors watch from below) where they will find another glass terrarium full of leaves. Their next job is simple, cut the leaves and return to base!
Upon returning to their main enclosure, the ants do not eat the leaves. Instead the leaves are taken underground to specialist workers who chew the leaves, spit them out and defecate on them to promote fungus growth. It is the fungus that the ants can then eat. So, in a sense they are an army of miniature farmers!
The ant colony is a huge family who all need to work together as a team if they hope to collect enough food to survive. So, like any family or team everyone must be assigned different jobs to make sure the team is working together efficiently. There are many different jobs within the ant colony but some of the most important jobs are as follows;
The Queen Ant
The queen ant is around the size of a baby mouse. Her job is simple, lay lots of eggs! She is capable of laying hundreds of eggs every day! She is also the only individual in the entire colony that can lay fertile eggs, so without her the colony would eventually cease to exist.
As the queen can lay several hundred eggs a day when she is fully productive, that doesn’t leave her much time to do anything else. So, the nursery workers are responsible for transporting the eggs to the correct chambers and feeding the larvae once they hatch.
Worker ants can be split into two further categories; The larger individuals become foragers and smaller individuals become gardeners. Foragers find and cut leaves, which they return to the nest for the foragers to sort and develop into fungus.
A soldier ant’s role is to defend the colony from predators. They are much larger than the other ants (though not as large as the queen) and have enormous mandibles which can deliver quite a nasty pinch. – Cool Maya Fact – The Maya people used soldier ants as stitches to bind together open wounds.
Some ants are tasked with removing waste and excavating new tunnels ready for gardener ants to fill with leaves and fungus.
It is also interesting to note that the ant colony is made up entirely of females! Males are only produced for reproductive purposes and usually only live for a few days. The colony is therefore made up entirely of the queen and her millions of daughters.
Mexican Leaf Cutting Ant
Our other Leaf Cutting Ants (Acromyrmex octospinosus) operate in a very similar fashion to our Atta colony in that they all work together performing lots of different tasks. Including the cultivation of fungus by collecting and rotting leaves.
The main differences between Atta and Acromyrmex is that unlike the Atta colony which can have several million ants working for it, Acromyrmex are a much smaller colony usually maxing out at around 40,000 workers. Acromyrmex are also a multi queen colony meaning they can have several queens producing fertile eggs at a time unlike the Atta which only ever have one active queen at a time.
Our Beetle display currently consists of a range of fruit and flower beetles whose life cycle is rather unusual. Like many insects their life cycle begins with an egg, which, depending on the species is usually laid deep in the ground. The egg hatches into a larvae, which we can also refer to as a grub. Upon hatching the larvae begins to feed on its surrounding substrate (which in the case of our flower beetles is rotting leaves, wood and soil). The rotting substrate contains lots of important nutrients which are essential for the larvae to grow. During the larvae’s development it must shed its skin in order to grow. It does this 3 times during its development and each time it sheds its skin, it gets a little bit bigger. Some of our larvae reach a maximum size of over 20cm and can weigh over 100 grams! Once the larvae reaches its maximum weight it is ready to become a pupae. It begins by constructing a pupal chamber or cocoon which provides it with protection. Next the larvae rests for several days or weeks before shedding its skin to form the pupae. Inside the pupae the larvae slowly transforms over the following weeks or months until finally the adult beetle emerges! Now all it has to do is rest and gather its strength, which it will need to break open its cocoon and make its way up through the soil to find food. Once the beetle has eaten, its next job is to find a mate and start the whole cycle all over again.
We have a number of species on display at the moment including a variety of Giant African Fruit Beetles and the almighty Goliath Beetles!
Sizeable Stick Insects
See if you can find our stick insects, their camouflage is brilliant to help them hide from predators. We have long thin ones, short spiky ones and even one of the heaviest stick insects in the world.
The Jungle Nymph is among a number of species of stick insects we have on diplay. Originating from Malaysia it is one of the heaviest insects in the world. The males and females of this species are very different. The boys are small and slender with long wings on their backs for flying and are mottled brown in colour. Whereas, the girls are much larger with wings that are shorter and rounder and therefore not used for flight at all. However, the girls can rub their wings together to produce a loud rustling noise to deter predators. The females are usually green in colouration but occasionally they are yellow or pink.
Male eating Mantids
Mantis are beautiful and intriguing insects of many different shapes and sizes. They do all share some of the same characteristics which are as follows. They have triangular heads with large bulging eyes that provide them with an excellent field of vision. They have six legs, four of which they stand upon, their forelegs however, are highly adapted with needle sharp spines for catching passing insects. Some have magnificent wings, although mantis wings are not always used for flight. They are often used for diematic displays in which the mantis reveals its wings, which are covered in intricate eye spots that can be used to deter predators. Mantis also have a fearsome reputation in the insect world as the females often devour their mates!
Dead Leaf Mantis
The Dead Leaf Mantis named for its fantastic leaf like camouflage, is a particularly ferocious species from Malaysia. Females are much larger than males and are capable of producing a magnificent threat display when startled. They will open up their wings and rotate their forearms to reveal detailed eyespot patterns which will frighten away approaching predators. The males can also produce this threat response, but with wings that are well adapted for flight it’s much easier for them to fly away.
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