Yesterday I was surprised to see a butterfly just out of hibernation, resting on the threshold of the Church of the Holy Redeemer on the Mainstreet in Bray.
The Small Tortoiseshell on the church stone.
It had clearly fallen out from under the arch, temperatures having risen above 10 degrees Celsius for most of the day, encouraging it to wake up. Small Tortoiseshells are excellent hibernators and are also usually the last butterflies in the Wicklow sky before winter sets in. They are also often the first to appear in spring, although Orange-tip butterflies are the kings of spring.
As many people are undoubtedly aware, today marks the end of Heritage Week. There were apparently far more heritage events nationwide than in previous years, but most importantly of all, a growing number of people are realising that heritage is not just cultural, but natural too. In fact, even more so, as landscape influences culture in ways not often appreciated. Anyhow, summer is still rolling along, although, as I’m sure many students returning to school this coming week are only too aware, we are in the later stages of it now. But there is plenty of wildlife to be found out there still.
Not a great photo, but the first wild Comma butterfly (Nymphalis c-album) I have encountered in many years. This one got trapped indoors. In case you are wondering, those wings are not damaged. All Commas have jagged-looking wings like this, although why they do is a mystery. When I netted this butterfly I assumed it was a Small Tortoiseshell with damaged wings, which do occur. However, as soon as I got it into a big sweet jar (through which I took this photo) I realised it was, in fact, a Comma. These butterflies get their name from a white comma-like mark on the underside of each hind wing. The Comma appears to be a damaged Small Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis urticae), but you can see from this photo of a Small Tortoiseshell that the wing patterns are quite different. This photo was taken in my little purposely-planted meadow.
I had searched vegetation high and low this summer and completely failed to find any crickets, only to accidentally carry this one into the house on my jacket. This is a male Speckled Bush Cricked (Leptophyes punctatissima) and he is doing the insect equivalent of biting his toenails.
The Large White butterfly is extremely common in Wicklow right now, and in some areas much more than in others. They are hatching out from chrysalises hidden under the eaves of roofs, under vehicles and outdoor furniture and, of course, tree trunks. Here’s one I found earlier, its wings still drying out:
A Large White resting on my hand after it fell out from underneath a car where it had just hatched out. Its wings were still a little floppy.
So why are there so many Large Whites around right now? Well, as many people will know, especially gardeners, the alternative common name for this butterfly is Cabbage White, because its caterpillars are such pests of cabbages. However, cabbages have many relatives, and by far the most abundant at this time of the year is the Oilseed Rape. Amid all the deep green fields of grass and early corn are the stunning, glowing gold fields of OilseedRape, from which we get cooking oil. If you are seeing a lot of Large Whites around any particular area there will almost certainly be fields of this amazing plant, whose flowers fill the air with a terrific fragrance on sunny days.
A fragrant field of Oilseed Rape, a crop beloved of Large White butterflies.