News and information about wildlife in and around the parish.
A local, mostly southern species that usually flies at night but, as in this case, can be diurnal immediately after emergence. Second year running in our garden.
Red Admiral: This spectacular butterfly probably got its name from the ‘royal navy ensign colours’ of its wings rather than being a corruption of ‘admirable’ which it also undoubtedly is! It is a butterfly which traditionally did not survive British winters and so our butterflies came in several waves of immigration – first from North Africa and Southern Europe, then from Spain and Portugal and lastly from Eastern Europe. The offspring of the butterflies that came to the UK do, to some extent, head back south again. The variable numbers of this butterfly in the UK each year reflects the size of these several immigrations. With milder winters it may be that there will be some homegrown butterflies as they can be seen flying in any month of the year. Unlike Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells, they do not go into proper winter torpor for hibernation. It maybe that caterpillars and pupae can also survive our winters in increasing numbers, which provide some of the early butterflies seen in March and April. The main food plant is stinging nettle and eggs are laid singly on the top surfaces of suitable nettle leaves. The caterpillar constructs a tent out of the leaf so remains hidden for its whole life. New tents are made as it grows and finally forms the pupa inside a tent made from a folded nettle leaf. Do try looking for them on nettles. There are no distinct generations with so many immigrants coming in widely variable numbers throughout the summer, but all the life stages can be found in most months of the year. In autumn they can be seen feeding up on the sugars in ivy flowers or rotting fruits before heading south. There is considerable interest in just how much they are now overwintering in the UK successfully, so records in December and January would be particularly interesting.
Photos John Ball Robert Maxwell Wood
Brimstone: That this butterfly is the origin of the word ‘butter-fly’ with its abundance and colour, flying early in the year, is a lovely story. Brimstones over-winter as adults in woodland and hedgerow places such as amongst ivy. They can appear at any time in January or February flying on warm sunny days but will inevitably return to hibernation. They emerge properly in late March and April and will wander widely in search of mates, and for the females, in search of purging buckthorn around Westbury and alder buckthorn in parts of the country with more acidic soils. The males are bright yellow and unmistakeable, while the females are a much paler greenish cream colour – resembling large whites in colour and size. However, once they settle, with wings always closed, the lack of black wingtips and the pointed shape of the wings make them easy to recognise. Having found a suitable buckthorn shrub, the female will flutter around until exactly the right places have been found and then lay one egg in each of them. These eggs hatch to produce a green caterpillar which can be found quite easily by looking closely at the leaves of a buckthorn bush. The pupa is formed on the underside of a leaf and has the appearance of a folded leaf. By the end of June the adults that flew in April and May will have died and during July and August the new generation of adults will have emerged from their pupae and will be feeding up on nectar from flowers, often purple or blue, such as knapweed and buddleia, before going into hibernation for the winter. There is just this one generation a year.
Photos Peter Bright