Floral 'fritillary frocks' offer insects tasty refuge

A fritillary frock
Image caption The fritillary frocks aim to bring a human touch to helping insects survive the urban landscape

Love may well be like a butterfly, though the plight of Wales' insect pollinators is far from soft and gentle.

Across the UK, it's estimated that as many as two-thirds of bees, butterflies and moths are facing extinction.

However Dr Karen Ingham, of Swansea Metropolitan University, is aiming to replicate their multicoloured moods of love, in the satin wings of her pollinating frocks.

Her invention uses microscopically-enhanced floral patterns and fabrics containing special sugar coating, to create dresses which will attract some of Wales' rarest breeds of pollinating insects.

An artist and a reader in art, science and technology interactions, she admits that it is partly an attempt to draw publicity to our rapidly disappearing eco-system.

"While the dire predicament of the world's bees has been widely publicised, the situation facing other pollinating insects is not as well known," she says.

"Pollinators play a vital role in food production and are tied to the health and biodiversity of our flora.

"As these insects disappear, so do the dependent plants, meadows and landscapes which they pollinate."

Her dresses - the fritillary frocks - are named in honour of one of Britain's most endangered species, the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly.

Around 350 colonies of these butterflies estimated to remain in the UK, with over half in Pembrokeshire.

Dr Ingham says the inexorable process of urbanisation is to blame.

"For the first time in the world's history more people are living in cities than in rural areas.

"I have made these clothes to encourage urban, fashion-conscious young people who may not have much engagement with the countryside to find out about the pollination problems."

Image caption The dresses are impregnated with sucrose, fructose and xanthan gum for the insects to eat

Dr Ingham said the dress mimic the most attractive features which pollinating insects look for in a flower.

When the insects land on the clothing, they can gain much-needed sustenance from the sucrose, fructose and xanthan gum which has been permanently impregnated into the material.

"The dresses don't, in themselves, solve the problems of cross-pollination as, obviously, you can't pollinate a dress."

"But they will attract insects lost in an urban environment, and give them the boost they need to make it to the next available plant."

"If enough people wore them, then eventually insects may start to win the battle, and could establish biodiverse plant life in the midst of our concrete jungles."

Image caption A dozen dresses will be showcased at the national botanic garden in Carmarthenshire in the summer

But if the prospect of sitting on the bus next to someone wearing a fritillary frock is enough to give you the creepy crawlies, you're not alone although Dr Ingham offers some reassurance.

"Some people have made out the dresses will encourage swarms of bees but that is not the case," she says.

"A bee landing on one and stinging someone is no more likely than if they landed on any floral dress."

Fritillary frocks have been tested in New Zealand's Pukekura Botanic Parklands and Dr Ingham is to showcase a dozen of them at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in Carmarthenshire this summer.

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