Peacock Butterflies

The warm weather of the last few weeks has certainly brought out the first of the butterflies in the garden.  The first to emerge are those that have over-wintered as adults.  The Peacock butterfly is one of a select bunch of hardy British butterflies that can survive the cold in the United Kingdom hibernating as adults.  Others include the Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Red Admiral and Brimstone.

If you want these beautiful creatures to have a safe haven it is important that you don’t spend too much time clearing away and tidying up.  These butterflies need a safe undisturbed place in a shed or wood pile.  Don’t cut back the ivy and other climbers as this is also a good hibernating spot for other over-wintering butterflies and also moths.

Of course, these over-wintering insects are also food for our garden birds in the harsh winter months and we often see the tiny wrens darting in and out of the ivy collecting food and potentially making nests later.

Over the last few weeks I have had the pleasure of seeing Peacock, Brimstone and Orange Tip butterflies flying through the garden.  Rather than over wintering as adults the Orange Tip butterflies over winter as a chrysalis emerging early in the spring to lay their eggs.

Brimstone butterflies (9453720568)
Brimstone Butterflies (Photo credit:  Ian Kirk from Broadstone, Dorset, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

All of these butterflies have emerged early so that they can mate and lay their eggs on the fresh spring growth of the caterpillar food plants.  The Peacock caterpillars feed on stinging nettles, the Orange Tips on Cuckooflower and garlic mustard and the Brimstones on Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn.  Once again don’t be too eager to clear the garden of all these wild plants if you want your garden to be rich in animal wildlife.

Orange Tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines)
Orange Tip Butterfly (Photo credit: Charles J Sharp / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0))

As a child I remember with great pleasure collecting Peacock caterpillars, feeding them up on nettles in a jam jar until they pupated and then waiting eagerly for the butterflies to emerge and fly away freely.  The fascinating lifecycle of these creatures and their beauty continues to enthral me to this day.

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The first garden butterflies of 2019

The weather over the last few weeks (late February 2019) has been bright and sunny and remarkably warm (over 15°C for the last couple of days). The honey bees and bumble bees have been enjoying the daphne, emerging cherry blossom and particularly the crocus flowers that have been wide open in the sunshine.

Even more delightful has been the sight of the first butterflies of the year in the garden here in Warwickshire.

On 21st February 2019 I saw the first yellow Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni). This yellow, butter-coloured butterfly (possibly why the insects are in fact called ‘butterflies’) is particularly tough and over winters in the United Kingdom. According to the Butterfly Conservation website the larvae feed on leaves of Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), which occurs mainly on calcareous soils, and Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus), which is found on moist acid soils and wetlands. Although we have a wide range of native trees in the garden and in the surrounding countryside I am not aware we have any of these close by but we do see Brimstone butterflies most years.

Common brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) male 5

Photo credit: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

On 24th February 2019 we also spotted the first Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Last year we commented that we had seen very few of these colourful insects in 2018 and so perhaps this is a sign that they may have survived better this winter than they did the winter of 2017/2018 when there were a number of periods of bitterly cold weather. Normally a migratory butterfly from Northern Africa and continental Europe there appear to be an increasing number that now manage to over winter in the UK (ref: Butterfly Conservation website).

Unlike the Brimstone the Red Admiral larvae feed on the Common Nettle (Urtica dioica), something that we have plenty of! It appears that they also use Hop (Humulus lupulus) which we have both within the garden and in the local hedgerows.

Le Vulcain (Vanessa atalanta) red admiral

Photo credit: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Last year we kept a photographic record of the mid-summer and late-summer butterflies that we saw throughout the year and we will try and do the same again this year (see: Six on Saturday: July Butterflies and Late summer butterflies in the garden for more information and pictures)

Late summer butterflies in the garden

As the year progresses we see a notable change in the butterflies that visit the garden.  Early in the year I posted a selection of pictures from July but whilst the ‘whites’ continue to flutter around the flowers there are a number of others that I have captured with the camera during September.   Here are my ‘Six on Saturday’ for this week


One:  Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Normally the Small Tortoiseshell is very common in the garden always gracing the buddleja.  This year however we have seen very few and only in the last few weeks have we seen a couple enjoying the pink Phuopsis stylosa blooming for a second time this year.

The Small Tortoiseshell can spend the winter hibernating as an adult.²  Hibernating with their jagged wings closed shut they are well camouflaged looking just like a dead leaf.

The caterpillars feed on nettle (Urtica dioica).

P1020163 Small Tortoiseshell


Two:  Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui)

The painted lady is a migrant species to the British Isles coming from North Africa and southern europe each year. It is reported to have a worldwide distribution existing almost everywhere accept South America. ¹  In his charming book, “The Butterfly Isles”, Patrick Barkham reported seeing swarming of these migrating butterflies in 2009. ²

The caterpillar feeds on thistles (Cardus), burdock (Arctium) and other plants. ¹

P1020127 Painted Lady


Three:  Small White (possible – rather than Large White!) (Pieris rapae

The ‘whites’ have to be included here simply because they enjoy the garden throughout the summer and are still present into the late summer.  Although clearly a bit of a pest in the vegetable garden I do love to watch them on a still summer day working their way around the flower beds.

I am certainly not an expert at distinguishing between the various white butterflies but there is a very helpful guide on the Butterfly Conservation website  ³.  The caterpillars feed on Brassica species along with the wonderfully fragrant mignonette (Reseda) and nasturtium (Tropaeolum). ¹  This adult is soaking up the late evening sunshine on the hornbeam hedge.

P1020164


Four:  Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

As with the Small Tortoiseshell this is usually a common butterfly in the garden but this year we have seen very few.  Possibly the long cold winter took its toll on the overwintering butterflies and hopefully they will get a chance to recover their numbers this year.

The Red Admiral’s are interesting to watch when you sit out with a glass of wine on a summer evening.  If you sit in their perching spot they will continually pester you until you move.

According to David Carter ¹ the Red Admiral is a migrant species with the first butterflies arriving in Britain during the spring but does not normally survive the winter.  However Patrick Barkham ² indicates that the Red Admiral is one species that is already a beneficiary of climate change as it can now increasingly survive the winter in southern England where it once perished.

The caterpillar feeds on nettles (Urtica).

P1020128


Five:  Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

I have written a longer piece on these but they have increased in number over the last few weeks and have emerged from the woodland edge into the rest of the garden.  They seem to particularly like sunning themselves on the large leaves of the grape vines.

The caterpillars feed on various grasses such as couch grass (Agropyron repens) and cock’s foot (Dactylis glomerata). ¹

P1020020


Six:  Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

This is such a small but beautifully formed butterfly.  It seems to particularly like the bed with the late summer asters and perennial rudbeckias.

The Small Copper is a species of meadows, hedgerows, roadsides and downlands and enjoys a similar habitat to the Meadow Brown, Hedge Brown (Gatekeeper), Orange-Tip and various blues.  The Small Copper caterpillar feeds on various species of dock and sorrel (Rumex) and also knotgrass (Polygonum). ¹

P1020072 Small Copper


For the record we have also seen a smallish blue butterfly around the garden but I have not yet had a chance to capture it on camera and identify it precisely.

The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Further reading

¹ “Butterflies and Moths of Britain and Europe” by David Carter (ISBN:  0 330 26642 X)

² “The Butterfly Isles” by Patrick Barkham (ISBN 978-1-84708-127-8)

³ https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/how-to-identify-white-butterflies

 

 

Garden Ecology – Speckled Wood Butterfly

When I wrote about butterflies visiting the garden in July we had seen the Speckled Wood in the copse and amongst the orchard trees but I had not managed to capture it on camera.

The Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) is a relatively common British butterfly that frequents the dappled shade of the woodland edge.  Although I had seen them in the garden they were so well camouflaged that as soon as they landed they seemed to just disappear!  Finally however I have managed to have some success.

It is reported¹ that both sexes feed on the honeydew in the tree tops and are rarely seen feeding on flowers except when aphid activity is low.  The butterflies are on the wing from May until October².  It appears this butterfly is unique among the butterflies of the British Isles⁴ as it can hibernate and over winter either as a caterpillar or a chrysalis³.

The food plants¹ ² of the caterpillars include various grasses including Cock’s Foot (Dactylis glomerata), Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus) and Couch Grass (Agropyron repens).  I knew there was a reason why I should have couch grass growing in the garden!

Family:  Nymphalidae

P1020032 Speckled Wood
Speckled Wood Butterfly – 14 August 2018 – Warwickshire

Further reading

¹ https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/speckled-wood

² “Butterflies and Moths of Britain and Europe” by David Carter (ISBN:  0 330 26642 X)

³ “The Butterfly Isles” by Patrick Barkham (ISBN 978-1-84708-127-8)

⁴ https://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/species.php?species=aegeria

 

Six on Saturday: July Butterflies

There is so much movement in the garden on these very warm sunny days.  It is just lovely to see the butterflies flitting from flower to flower and amongst the long grass.

Photographing them is more of a challenge but here are six that I have managed to capture in the last few days.


One:  Comma (Polygonia c-album) (Family: Nymphalidae)

Comma butterfly on grape vine
Comma butterfly on grape vine

This second picture shows the very characteristic white comma on the underside of the wing that gives it is common name.

Comma butterfly on grape vine showing distinctive 'comma' on underwing
Comma butterfly on grape vine showing distinctive ‘comma’ on underwing

Two:  Large white (Pieris brassicae) (Family: Pieridae)

Large White butterfly on Verbena bonariensis
Large White butterfly on Verbena bonariensis

Three:  Peacock  (Inachis io) (Family: Nymphalidae)

Peacock butterfly on Lysimachia Clethroides
Peacock butterfly on Lysimachia Clethroides

Four: Small White (Pieris rapae) (or possibly Wood White) (Family: Pieridae)

This white butterfly is very much smaller than the Large White and seems to rarely land to have its photograph taken.  I am not entirely sure which species this is so happy to be corrected.

Small White (or possibly wood white) on buddleja
Small White (or possibly wood white) on buddleja

Five:  Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) (Family: Nymphalidae)

Meadow Brown butterfly on Lysimachia clethroides
Meadow Brown butterfly on Lysimachia clethroides

Six:  Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)  (Family: Nymphalidae)

Gatekeeper butterfly on Lysimachia Clethroides
Gatekeeper butterfly on Lysimachia Clethroides

In addition there have been others over the last week or so that I have not yet been able to photograph.  These include the yellow Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.