Tag Archives: Comma

Embracing Autumn in Wicklow

This year autumn really feels like autumn. Since the Equinox the weather has seemed markedly cool, although there’s been good sunshine too. There’s a lot of rain about also, though. However, there are still some very interesting things to be seen. All across the landscape there are the big, beautiful, shimmering webs of the Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) slung between bushes and trees, and occasionally buildings too:

  These webs are mostly made by the females, which reach full size at this time of the year. They are extremely pretty spiders, almost jewel-like, and very ungainly on the ground, so they almost never leave their webs. There are mainly two variations – a common, boldly-marked one with strong brown and white markings; and a pale, almost golden variety, which you can see here:

The presence of these large, stout spiders attracts insectivorous birds. Spiders are extremely nutritious, on average about 40 times more nutritious than a fly of similar size, and also relatively easy to catch in comparison to flying insects. As a result, this is one of the best times of year to see bird species such as the Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), which are much less shy than they usually are during the majority of the year. Usually they hunt along riverbanks, and specialise in catching semi-aquatic insects, such as mayfly or stonefly:

   Many people assume, when they see one, that they are looking at the Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) as this one has so much yellow on it, but the Yellow Wagtail is actually almost completely yellow, whereas the Grey Wagtail has quite a lot of grey on it, although it’s not so noticeable when one of these birds flies across the path in front of you. Although spiders are easy pickings, birds have lots of flying insects to hunt too. The past summer was a bumper year for Comma butterflies (Polygonia c-album), and you can see a second, even more brightly-coloured generation this autumn, if you keep your eyes peeled. Here is one I came across at the weekend:

However, this is the end of the time of the Commas, and very soon this second generation will also be gone into hibernation. They live to re-emerge in the springtime when they breed.

Besides butterflies there are also many moths to be seen, and one very interesting species which is attracted to the lights of windows, is the Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria). The ‘feathered’ title comes from the shape and size of the male’s antennae, which do look like miniature feathers. Here is a very handsome specimen which I photographed on a wall by a window the night before last. It’s a male, but unfortunately its antennae are folded beneath it:

   Autumn is only beginning, and there are many interesting things to be seen, and still more to come.

Year of the Comma

In 2011 we had the so-called Summer of the Painted Lady due to a population explosion of that butterfly species which arrived in the British Isles in hundreds of thousands, if not millions of individuals. This summer in eastern Ireland we have a population explosion of another species of butterfly, the distinctive and beautiful Comma (Polygonia c-album). It is a bright rusty orange colour and flies extremely fast, and when you eventually manage to see it paused to rest and sunbathe on a leaf you will probably think somebody cut its wings into odd shapes with a scissors, because this butterfly has very odd wings:

   The undersides of the wings are very dark and drab, but look like dried leaves. However, there is one bright white mark on each lower wing in the shape of a comma punctuation mark, which is how this remarkable-looking butterfly gets its name:

So it’s a very exciting summer so far, and it’s only reaching the high point.

Finally, as a matter of house-keeping I would like to apologise to anyone attempting to contact or comment on this blog. Due to an unprecedented level of spam attacks the filter is turned to maximum and many legitimate messages have almost certainly been put into the spam folder. The spam problem will shortly be fixed, hopefully, and the legitimate messages will be read. So please don’t feel you are being ignored if you have taken the trouble to leave a comment. Many thanks for doing so!

Heritage

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. The common name of this species comes from a bright white mark resembling a comma ( ' ) on the underside of each hind wing.
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, 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. 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 ( ) and he is doing the insect equivalent of biting his toenails.
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.