Category Archives: butterflies of Britain

Spindle webs

web across nettles

Remarkable photo from the BBC’s Autumnwatch a few years back of spindle trees and bushes (Euonymus europaeus) in a Dorset hedgerow infested with the silk webs of the spindle moth or spindle ermine (Yponomeuta cagnagella). More here with a video.

Spindle ermines weave silk webs to protect themselves from birds and wasps, allowing them to gorge on leaves for six weeks before transforming into the moth. Not known for being bright sparks, they sometimes mistake other objects  for spindle trees such as this car in Rotterdam (Image: Daily Mail).
Moth attack: spindle ermines moth caterpillars covered this car with a giant silk web in Rotterdam

Mystery of the Painted Ladies solved

2009 has been the year of the Painted Lady butterflies, after unusually favourable breeding conditions in North Africa triggered a remarkable wave of migration that saw millions arrive in Britain.  So it’s appropriate that this year a niggling mystery regarding this species has finally been solved.  After breeding, do these butterflies attempt to survive the British winter, or do they migrate southwards?
With a huge response from the public, Butterfly Conservation have been monitoring the movements of Painted Ladies all year and have received numerous reports of the butterflies heading out to sea off the south coast of Britain and arriving in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Richard Fox of Butterfly Conservation:

This is exactly the evidence needed to lay this enduring mystery to rest. Painted Ladies do return southwards from Britain in the autumn enabling the species to continue its breeding cycle during the winter months.

Queen of Spain Fritillaries breeding in Sussex

The Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia), a rare migrant sporadically seen on the south coast of England, has been observed breeding in Sussex.  With climate change, the butterfly’s range has been creeping ever northwards, and sightings in England have increased in recent years.  The mating Fritillaries photographed by Neil Hulme, member of Butterfly Conservation, are believed to be the offspring of a migrant butterfly spotted in July.  It now remains to be seen if this species will be able to establish a breeding colony, as the Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) has done. Its success will depend largely on environmentally-friendly farming practices, such as not spraying crops at the edge of fields.  More information on the Queen of Spain Fritillary at UK Butterflies

Rodborough Common: walking among orchids and butterflies

An airy place to stretch your legs, Rodborough Common is perched steeply over Stroud, on the edge of the Cotswolds.  Any time of the year is good for extensive views of the Severn estuary and Welsh mountains on the horizon, but spring to summer are best, as the carefully managed chalk grassland is a haven for butterflies and wild flowers.  Continue reading Rodborough Common: walking among orchids and butterflies

Good butterfly news – the Duke of Burgundy

This summer there’s good reason to be optimistic about the Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina), on the list of endangered British butterflies. With the destruction of its preferred woodland habitat, the species hung on in areas of undergrazed downland in the south of England, favoured by the crash in the rabbit population. What’s unusual this year is that a second generation of the butterfly has appeared in one of its more northerly outposts, Rodborough Common, Gloucestershire, owned by the National Trust.  Climate change seems responsible for the butterfly emerging earlier every spring and for this appearance of a second brood in summer, as occurs in southern Europe.  Read more at the BBC, where you can also listen to the clearly thrilled conservation advisor Matthew Oates, as he talks about the revival of the Duke of Burgundy.

Brace yourself for the insect invasions

Summer time is perilous, judging by some of the recent headlines in the Daily Telegraph:

Wasp Hordes poised to invade British GardensArmy of Flying Ants descend on BritainSwarm of Millions of Ladybirds infests farm.

It’s enough to make you flee indoors and hide, with all windows sealed shut.

But one invasion is described in words that don’t invite fear and loathing: Billions of Butterflies expected in GardensContinue reading Brace yourself for the insect invasions