Tag Archives: butterflies

Flower Power

We are now at the height of the summer flowering, and wild flowers are now at their most abundant, as are cultivated flowers in gardens. The flowering should continue through to the end of August and into September without a problem, so long as the weather stays reasonably good. The rains of the last few days have really helped the soil and enhanced the blooming. And, as a direct result, there has been an explosion in the insect population, particularly butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies.

A Red-tailed Bumblebee taking pollen from a Cornflower. These bees are obsessed with the colours blue and purple, and are attracted to blue Cornflowers and big thistle heads, but will often ignore the same species in a different colour. There's a mystery here to be solved...
A Red-tailed Bumblebee taking pollen from a Cornflower. These bees are obsessed with the colours blue and purple, and are attracted to blue Cornflowers and big thistle heads, but will often ignore the same species in a different colour. There’s a mystery here to be solved…

The meadow in the photo above was planted by me. It was an experiment, and has been so successful I’m going to be doing it again next year on a grander scale. This little meadow is the equivalent of a coral reef on dry land and has attracted some less common garden visitors, such as the Small Copper butterfly, which you can see below.

The Small Copper is a very small but striking butterfly only slightly larger than my thumbnail. It can blend into the background perfectly when it wants to, simply by folding its wings, which are camouflaged on the undersides.
The Small Copper is a very small but striking butterfly only slightly larger than my thumbnail. It can blend into the background perfectly when it wants to, simply by folding its wings, which are camouflaged on the undersides.

As beautiful as the butterflies are, they have some serious competition from the moths. A very interesting medium-sized moth coming to house lights at the moment is the Burnished Brass. It gets its name because its wings look like they are literally made of brass. But illustrations in books and photographs often fail to do them justice. However, by sheer force of luck, I think I might have managed it with the photo below.

I photographed this Burnished Brass last night. The wings always remind me of fancy sweet wrappers. That's candy wrappers to you Americans.
I photographed this Burnished Brass last night as it rested on a window. The wings always remind me of fancy sweet wrappers. That’s candy wrappers to you Americans.

But the big moths are not the only interesting or pretty ones. It’s easy to overlook the very small ones, but a closer inspection can reveal incredible patterns and colours. The tiny moth in the photo below is a combination of caricature and beauty, one of many small species that live in the meadows and come to light at night time. As yet it has no common name, so any wit out there can try his or her hand at coming up with an appropriate one, and seeing if it sticks. Only time will tell.

Agriphila selasella is a very common species in Wicklow, but is badly in need of an art common name. 'Meadow Pointer' is my stab at it.
Agriphila selasella is a very common species in Wicklow, but is badly in need of an apt common name. ‘Meadow Pointer’ is my stab at it.

Some of the best meadowland in Wicklow actually lies along the seashore. This week I spotted my first Hummingbird Hawkmoth of the year feeding on the small dense yellow cloud-like flower-clusters of Ladies’ Bedstraw in one of these beach meadows. While you are down there you still have time to see how the Horned Poppy gets its name, as they have their long seedpods which look like horns. The one in the photo below is a classic example.

A Horned Poppy on a Wicklow beach, looking almost like a sculpture.
A Horned Poppy on a Wicklow beach, looking almost like a sculpture, or some strange walking plant.

 

 

Summer… back from oblivion

In May and June the weather went haywire, temperatures well below normal and vast quantities of rain pouring from the sky weekly. Well things are finally starting to look up. The weather seems to have stabilised, with temperatures last week actually reaching 27 Celsius and last night was a balmy 19 C, today all my various thermometers are hovering over 24C and it’s barely lunchtime. Anyhow, the flowers are blooming like crazy. Ireland is said to be one of the best places in the whole world to see fuchsias, which are not indigenous plants but garden escapees originally from southern Chile and Argentina. They have become an unmissable part of our new countryside, and many moths and butterflies like them too.

Beautiful fuchsias hanging by a Wicklow roadside right now.

But if that’s not enough for you, then there’s the oceans of nectar-filled colour to choose from. The Butterfly Bushes, Buddleia davidii are now weighed down with their various coloured blooms, each of which is a remarkable variation of a single type of scent. Needless to say the butterflies, hoverflies and everything else loves them.

A Red Admiral feeding on Butterfly Bush.

 

A Small Tortoiseshell tucks into the buffet.

 

And although this summer has been a genuine disappointment (butterfly numbers are WAY down below average) migrants are reaching our shores, and here is the single Painted Lady (below) I’ve seen so far this year, resting and basking on top of bramble in the 27 C of last week.

My one Painted Lady sighting this year. Elegance personified.

However, don’t let the butterflies take all the limelight – there are some truly fantastic beauties out there, and some of them are exotic-coloured beetles. I call this one the Dream Beetle for a long and complicated reason, but mostly because it has no common name. It’s one of the nectar-feeding long-horns, and last week was only my second time ever seeing one. The last was five years ago in the garden. This one (below) was out on the hogweed by the road. All praise the hogweed, it feeds armies of the most important insects in our countryside, and more besides. Importance, of course, is relative.

The Dream Beetle, Strangalia quadrifaciatus, is a large beetle that feeds on nectar and is only very rarely seen. We are very fortunate to have them in Wicklow, but I’m the only person I know of who has seen one! That’s why a camera is so important.

Well, the blog is back after terrible flu, endless rain, sub-summer temperatures and the many other little nuisances that afflict the online naturalist. I do plan to change the direction a little though, and perhaps make things more exciting. But you, dear reader, will be the judge of that…

The Undergrowth Comes Alive

The sunlight, and longer days are warming the valleys of Wicklow. The smaller wildlife, on which all others depend, are starting to steal the show. While strolling in a garden or along a village lane you might see a scarlet-coloured fluttering object drop from the sky and out of sight. It might appear a little later, but if not, look on the low-growing foliage for the beautiful and aptly-named Ruby Tiger moth (Phragmatobia fuliginosa), which emerges from its pupal coccoons in April and May, to take to the sky. This species employs bright colouring to warn of distasteful toxins in its body.

Ruby Tiger Moth lying low in a meadow. Beneath the forewings is a searing red underwing only usually discernible when the moth is in flight.

At the other end of the colour spectrum is the Holly Blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus), a stunning little spring butterfly that loves to bask on wide hedgerow leaves. This butterfly likes woodland glades and narrow laneways, aswell as gardens.

Holly Blue butterfly - you can tell this one is female by the narrow black margins on the outer edges of the forewings: males have much thicker markings, effectively black patches.

If you are very lucky you might even be fortunate enough to see a mating pair. Mating is a quiet and symmetrical affair. The lovers rest, joined by their abdomens, but facing in completely opposite directions. They only move to angle their wings in the sun.

A mating pair of Holly Blues. Behind them is a dangerous-looking, but harmless and extremely handsome Syrphus hoverfly.

However, the sunlit leaves are not necessarily safe places. Predatory invertebrates brazenly wait, motionless in the undergrowth, for unwitting visitors to arrive to provide them with lunch. Crab spiders wait on the leaves, and will soon be hiding among the blossoms.

Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia), waiting for prey. Crab Spiders get their names from their habit of grasping prey with their two long pairs of forelegs, while balancing on their two shorter pairs of hind legs, as this one was doing.

However, many small creatures are fortunate enough not to hide on leaves. Your best chance of seeing the Early Thorn moth (Selenia dentaria) is now in April, usually perched on timber door or window frames, and garden sheds. The first generation male, pictured, is perfectly coloured to match dark timber, and dry leaves in the hedgerows.

A male Early Thorn moth perched on a door frame.