Tag Archives: butterflies

The Butterfly Extravaganza

Somehow, yet again, we’ve reached the middle of August and the days are getting noticeably shorter, but they’re still long and warm despite there being a bit of rain about. We are now at the peak of the summer bloom, and this is when you will see the most butterflies and most kinds of butterflies. Keep a look out for the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), although we don’t have a lot of them around this year.

The Painted Lady is found across Europe and Asia and even in North America and is a migrating species.

This summer we have had an abundance of Peacock butterflies (Aglais io) which are very popular with tourists from the Americas and I have been told on more than one occasion by American tourists that when it comes to seeing and photographing butterflies, the one they most want is the Peacock. And who could blame them – it’s absolutely stunning.

However, a very close second when it comes to popularity is the closely-related, but quite different looking Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) , another Old World species much prized by wildlife photographers from the US and Canada.

Personally, I think they are all equally beautiful and the fact that you can often see them all flying together at this time of year, feeding on soil minerals and bramble blossoms, not to mention Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia davidii) and many other plant species, makes them even more special. There are also other beautiful butterflies which occasionally fly among these butterfly species and I hope to see and photograph some of them before the summer is over. Make sure you get out and have a good look at the butterflies this summer, while the spectacle lasts. In two or three weeks the numbers will begin to drop so make the most of it.

Butterfly Fly-bys

Some butterflies and many moths have short flight periods. They spend most of their lives as caterpillars and only become butterflies or moths in order to find mates and lay eggs. We are coming to the end of the flight season of one of these butterflies right now, the Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperanthus). This butterfly like long grass in open areas such as fields or meadows, so it’s a little off the beaten track for most people to come across. It’s also quite dark. Here is a male, which is quite handsome and has a white edge to its wings which looks quite impressive:

The female is slightly more brownish and less bold.

Another summer butterfly which lives in a similar habitat, but which flies mostly throughout July until the end of August is the Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina). Although not very brightly-coloured they are very handsome, but rarely sit still for too long except in the tall grasses of meadows. Here is one which, unusually, has stopped to feed on a buddleia bush:

   You have up until the end of august to see this butterfly, but if you want to see a Ringlet you have only a matter of days.

Despite my efforts to find and photograph an Elephant Hawkmoth it seems that the window of opportunity for this year has run out, or just about, and I will have to wait until next year. However, there is no shortage of food for the enormous caterpillars, which jungles of its beloved rosebay growing all around Wicklow, especially on the eastern seaboard, as you can see here:

Sometimes rosebay can grow to almost three metres tall!

Full Moon and Summer Solstice

Anyone who uses Google will probably have seen the ‘First Day of Summer’ cartoon on the search engine today, but alas it is actually wrong. The Summer Solstice is actually happening at precisely 11.34 pm tonight (10.34 pm GMT/UT) so tomorrow will in fact be the first day of the astronomical summer, and to be honest, summer weather really does only reliably begin with the Summer Solstice. This year is coincides with a Full Moon, so expect high tides. Typically cloudy weather is accompanying the Solstice Full Moon. This can be due to tidal forces, but also pollen dust, which acts like regular dust and attracts moisture in the atmosphere.  And there are plenty of summer visitors arriving, such as the much watched for Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui), which I have seen occasionally in the last two weeks. Here’s one of the only good photos I got:

A very beautiful Painted Lsdy butterfly. They visit Wicklow every year, but will leave in the autumn, if they survive their stay.
A very beautiful Painted Lsdy butterfly. They visit Wicklow every year, but will leave in the autumn, if they survive their stay.

And there are many other exotic insects about, including one which I have only seen twice before, the stunning Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis), which is as large as a wasp, but completely harmless. You will see these beetles on hedgerows and along, verges, in fields and even gardens:

A very handsome Wasp Beetle. Dangeorus-looking, but harmless. They are usually walking about on tall plants, or sunbathing, like this one.
A very handsome Wasp Beetle. Dangeorus-looking, but harmless. They are usually walking about on tall plants, or sunbathing, like this one.

However, ironically some harmless-looking insects can be a little bit harmful – almost all children know the Hairy Molly, a large hairy caterpillar which is often seen walking along sunlit paths and roads without a care in the world at this time of the year. In England they are known as Woolly Bears. The reason they are so unafraid is that they are bristling with poisonous hairs, which irritate the skin and lungs of some people, fortunately not me, as you can tell from this photo:

A handsome fuly-grown Hairy Molly.
A handsome fuly-grown Hairy Molly.

As for the adult this caterpillar will turn into – it’s a moth, and one of the most beautiful moths you are ever likely to see, the Garden Tiger (Arctia caja). I’ve only seen the moth twice before, but since there are many, many Hairy Molly caterpillars around, there must be many moths too, in the depth of the summer nights.