It has been the most protracted cold spring in living memory, and as a result butterflies have been extremely slow to appear, as they need 15° Celsius in which to fly, and it was much less than that up until last week. In fact, we had daytime temperatures as low as 6° Celsius! But this week temperatures leaped up to what would be normal for this time of year, and even above that, and suddenly butterflies and spring moths were appearing as if by magic. Here is one which I was very surprised to see, the Comma (Polygonia c-album):
Most surprising of all has been the numbers of Peacock butterflies (Inachis io) which have appeared in only the last three days. They are big and bold wine red butterflies with dramatic eye-spots:
Here’s a male Orange-tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) which had hatched out from a chrysalis,perched on some garden netting and waiting for its wings to expand and stiffen. This one is a male, as you can tell from the orange tips visible at the top of its fore-wings:
The butterflies of spring are here, but that’s not all – so too are the moths…
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.
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!