According to the numerous websites that list the various events, holidays and celebrations that happen around the world each day, today is both ‘Learn about butterflies Day’ and ‘Moth-er Day’. I do sometimes think these days are inventions to fill out their websites, as I’ve found no organisations celebrating either of these days in Britain and, though moths are around almost all year and butterflies are just starting to make their Spring appearance, this doesn’t seem to be the optimum time to celebrate either of these wing-ed species. Still, any excuse to share photos of some of my favourite creatures!
The two butterflies I see most often at the moment are fifty shades of brown and, when flying, very difficult to tell apart. Both enjoy the sheltered areas of tall grass and wildflowers in the conservation areas of Cathays Cemetery and, on a sunny day, I might see a combined total of perhaps thirty. Both are difficult to photograph as they rarely keep still long enough for me to reach them, let alone get focused shots, and they often settle down low in areas of long grass so, even at my most stealthy, I can seldom step through the greenery without disturbing them.
The Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) is not a Shirley Temple lookalike – its common name comes from the series of little ring markings on its hind wings. One of the advantages of being brown is that it is more easily able to warm itself up so can still be seen flying on overcast days. Common throughout Britain (except for the northernmost parts of Scotland), it tends to live in colonies, sometimes numbering up to several thousand individuals – what a sight that would be!
As its name suggests, the Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) is brown and lives in meadows, and it’s one of the most common, widespread and least endangered of British butterflies. There are, in fact, four separate sub-species, differentiated by location and extremely subtle variations in markings but I’m not going to venture in to that level of specialisation (there’s a wealth of information on the UK Butterflies website if you’re tempted).
A couple of weeks ago I posted about several recent butterfly sightings, including one of the Large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus). Today we have my first 2016 sighting of a Small skipper (a completely separate species, Thymelicus sylvestris), which I was lucky enough to see and photograph at the cemetery last Sunday. It’s often difficult to tell the Large (below, left) and Small (below, right) apart when they’re flying but, in these photos, you can clearly see the differences in the markings on their upper wings. The colours of both skippers remind me of golden amber, especially when the sunshine touches them.
Apparently, the Small skipper’s eggs usually hatch in late summer, after which the wee caterpillars overwinter within the grass stalk where their eggs were originally laid. Come spring, they spin themselves a little grass shelter that helps protect them from predators, initially only popping out at night to feed but emerging more often during the day as they grow larger. They pupate in May and June, before appearing, often in large numbers, as beautiful butterflies in July. My Small skipper was true to form, basking on grass in the warm sunshine, allowing me to get lots of lovely photos.
‘The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough,’ wrote Bengali Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore – perhaps a lesson for us all.
The first butterflies of spring-summer 2016 have now begun fluttering around me when I’m out walking. Like the bees and the hoverflies, I find they add an extra dimension to my wanderings, a whisper of magic, a hint of fairies …
The Small white (Pieris rapae) was the first butterfly I saw, a couple of weeks ago, during a walk around Cardiff Bay, but it eluded my attempts to photograph it. Both this and the Large white are known as the ‘Cabbage Whites’ for the damage their caterpillars do to the cabbage and other vegetable plants; I have childhood memories of my father regularly checking the undersides of his cabbage leaves and cursing those caterpillars! Though this butterfly has been known to fly as far as 100 miles in its lifetime, it couldn’t fly to New Zealand – in the days before strict agricultural border controls, it was accidentally introduced there, to Australia and to North America.
What a glorious creature the Peacock butterfly is and how lovely it looks on this blackthorn blossom, though this Peacock has seen better days; it’s a little faded and has parts of its wings missing. Aglais io gets its common name, obviously, from the unmistakable ‘eyes’ on its wings, so reminiscent of a peacock’s spectacular tail, but its underwings are quite the opposite, dark and easily mistaken for dead leaves in a woodland setting.
The Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) is the butterfly I’ve seen most often in the past couple of weeks, in the woodlands of Cosmeston and Bute Park and also in tree-filled Cathays Cemetery, where the two shown together above charmed me with their delicate spiralling dance. Is it love or the love of the chase, I wonder?