ROME (Reuters Life!) - Pollution and climate change may be threatening butterfly species but they seem to harbor no resentment to humans at a "Tea with the Butterflies" event being held in Rome's elegant Villa Borghese gardens this month.
Visitors can sip tea from elegant china and nibble biscotti against the backdrop of the frescoed Renaissance Aviary in the city's 17th-century gardens, while studying the life cycle of the beautiful and endangered species at very close quarters.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for people to see such beautiful butterflies," lepidopterist Nicola Moresco told Reuters, as colorful butterflies and moths landed on visitors, provoking squeals of delight and horror from children.
"Unfortunately, because of pollution, these butterflies are increasingly rare to see otherwise," said Moresco.
Extremely sensitive to levels of pollution and alterations of temperature, butterflies are key indicators of environmental change and their declining numbers are of profound concern for environmentalists across Europe.
Recent studies have suggested the continuing climb in European temperatures has already pushed 60 species of butterfly north from their regular habitat.
Several species have also suffered huge losses following decades of destructive farming and forestry.
"The species we have here tend to live for a couple of weeks," said organizer Fabio di Gioia. "But in this protected environment they will survive a bit longer."
With experts on site to impart their knowledge, the event exhibits the four-stage lifecycle of the butterfly, from egg to caterpillar, to pupa, to fully-fledged adults. While butterflies are popularly believed to be short-lived, some adults can live up to nearly a year, depending on the species.
Situated just next to the Galeria Borghese, with its priceless collection of works by Old Masters like Bernini and Caravaggio, the Aviary was built in the early 17th century to house the Borghese family's collection of exotic bird species.
With butterflies now occupying this grand birdcage, the event also includes a visit to otherwise inaccessible formal gardens of the Aviary.
A winning event with curious children, the exhibition includes stick insects and moths, as well as live silk worms.
Un tè con le Farfalle
Until 23rd May. 09.30-18.30 daily.
Tickets: 7 Euros. Reduction for children up to 10 and adults over 60: 5 Euros.
Booking necessary for schools, groups or special events (min.15 people)+39 334 9220923
Writing by Eliza Apperly; Editing by Daniel Flynn