Tag Archives: Pieris brassicae

September Cooling

Last year it felt like summer right up until the Autumn Equinox and even beyond, but this year autumn seemed to follow the old Celtic tradition and start in early August. The bouts of rain have brought a coolness in with them and only for the bright sunlight of the late morning and afternoon, between showers, creatures would be few and far between. However, keep an eye out for the big strong Autumn Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) which can be seen patrolling gardens an hedgerows all across Wicklow right now. Occasionally they land and you can see their beauty:

These powerful dragonflies are migrants and snatch big insects such as butterflies and moths out of the air. They hunt by sight, like most birds. The really funny thing about them is that this species was a rare visitor to Ireland until the turn of the 21st century when they first began to arrive in large numbers. But some insects are adept at hiding from such predators, such as the Silver-Y moth (Autographa gamma). Can you see this one hiding among the dried flowers of a phacelia plant? Look for the Y markings.

   Many other flying insects are ending their life-cycles, and their last act is to mate and lay eggs from which caterpillars hatch. If you look on lettuces, cabbages, watercress or nasturtiums you have a good chance of seeing quite big Large White butterfly caterpillars (Pieris brassicae), like this one stretched out on a nasturtium leaf.

And lastly, and sadly, there are still some small numbers of swallows around. Our swallow is found not only  in Europe and Africa but also across much of Asia and in the Americas where it migrates from North to South America every year. It is properly known as the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) and it feeds entirely on insects, so far as is known. Here are a large number of them I photographed at the end of August, as they gathered on electricity cables to rest before beginning their long flights south across Europe and over the Mediterranean Sea and the vast Sahara Desert to tropical and southern Africa where they will spend our winter. For them it will be another summer.

Large White Season

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. It's wings were still a little floppy.
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.
A fragrant field of Oilseed Rape, a crop beloved of Large White butterflies.