This favourite, large Butterfly, the Brimstone, is one of the few species to hibernate as adults and they are therefore one of the first to be seen flying in spring. Overwintering butterflies can survive the cold spells by the presence of ice-nucleating proteins which control freezing in their bodies! Brimstones are also thought, because of their yellow colour, to have given rise to the generic name ‘Butterfly’. The leaf-shaped profile of the wings means they are perfectly camouflaged when resting or hibernating, as can be seen from this photo of a female. We saw it in March, newly out of hibernation. The range for Brimstones has been extending further northwards over the last few years- we see them in our garden. It is dependent on the presence of the foodstuff of the caterpillars- Alder and Sea Buckthorn (earlier in the year I suggested anyone with a little space planted an Alder Buckthorn, which is also great for bees). The species is sexually dimorphic- the female is much paler cream, only the male is bright yellow
A female Brimstone Butterfly in March, resting among the plants, showing its brilliant camouflage.
The beautiful male Brimstone butterfly, newly emerged from its chrysalis and feeding on nectar from Teasels.
. I’ve been trying to get a photo of the male all year and Lynn spotted this one a few days ago, so I’ve been able to at last! This will be newly emerged from its chrysalis, which occurs in July. Like this one, adults feed on nectar from Teasels, Buddleia and Knapweed. Conditions: A warm day, with a possible shower later- surprisingly this July, though it has had a lot of hot, dry weather, has still not been as hot as 2013. Temperature: Max 0- Min 15 C
A Southern Hawker, newly emerged from its hard larvae casing, visible. This one is still in the process of pumping fluid into its unhardened wings and abdomen
This Southern Hawker has been emerged a few hours and is about ready to fly. The armoured casing of its larval form is clearer here.
A Common Hawker, in the garden this week.
A juvenile or female Common Darter- the males are brighter red in colour.
Back to the garden, and to the Dragonflies that we have been lucky to see here, over the last few years. Dragonflies, incredibly acrobatic fliers, are almost identical now to their ancestors which hunted 300 million years ago! Dragonflies feed on insects caught in flight, trapped with the help of the bristles on their legs. They then carry off the prey to a perch, to feed. They spend the majority of their life-cycle under water, as eggs and then larvae, which are wonderful fierce, armoured creatures that take two years to mature. The larvae then crawl out of the water, split open and the adult emerges (see photo’s). It takes a few hours for the adult to pump fluid through the wings and abdomen, and for the wings to harden. Then they fly off to find a mate, and the life cycle begins again. The Common Darter flies from summer to late autumn and as their name suggests the Darter Dragonflies, whose wings are angled forwards in rest, spend time perching or hovering before darting forward to catch an insect. This one was resting on a cane I put specially at an angle by the pond to act as a perch. Hawkers do just that– they spend a lot longer on the wing, hawking and hunting, the males protecting their territory and searching for mates. The Southern Hawker is the one you are most likely to see in your garden, but this year we have also had this Common Hawker. Conditions: A fresh day of cloud and some sun, but still no rain! Temperature: Max 21- Min 16 C
Continuing the Swallow theme, here are a few more of young Swallows– hard to take against a bright sky but lovely to see the acrobatics of the adults feeding them insects on the telegraph wires. These young need to put on weight quickly in readiness for their long migration in a few weeks. If you look up the cuckoo migration site by the British Trust or Ornithology you will see that the Cuckoos which were her for a brief time in summer have already migrated back towards Africa. Adults are only here for 6-8 weeks. Conditions: A cooler day, bright with cloud and sun, and still no rain. Temperature: Max 21- Min 14 C
Young Swallows in a church porch
Demanding to be fed!
The adult approaches!
I thought an early trip to the local park might be peaceful, but found the Great Yorkshire Run was passing right alongside the pond I’d chosen to nature-watch! So, today we have very common, but nevertheless interesting species! The name ‘Mallard’ comes from Old French, ‘malart’ meaning wild duck and it is the genetic origin of almost all domestic ducks. It is still being hunted for food in many parts of the world. Males and Females both have the blue ‘speculum’ patch on their wings. In full breeding plumage the males iridescent green head and pale grey back is well known but even when in transition plumage, like now, you can tell males from females. The males have yellow bills, once they are a few months old, while the females bill is orange-brown. Males also have a curled middle tail-feather, like a quiff, while that feather is straight in females. The males breast is reddish-brown while the females is brown. In one photo you can see the ducks nictitaing membrane, its third eyelid, which is a horizontally opening and closing membrane to protect the eye from water, grit or sand. Reptiles and sharks are among other animals that still have nictitaing
Male Mallards in transition plumage
Mallard preening, showing its nictitating membrane, or third eyelid.
A Black-headed Gull, also in transition plumage, losing it’s chocolate brown/black head colouring.
membranes. Talking of birds in transition, or ‘eclipse’ plumage, here is the other common bird on the pond today, a Black Headed Gull with the black head of summer breeding in process of moulting. Over winter this gulls head will just have a black patch behind the eye. Conditions: A fresher day, with cloud and sun. No sign of the rain we were expected to have last night. Temperature: Max 20- Min 15 C
The Gatekeeper (also called the Hedge Brown) is another lovely Butterfly of mid-summer, and is around gardens, hedgerows and fields right now. It is smaller and more foxy-orange in colour than its relative, the Meadow Brown, and tends to rest with its wings open, unlike the Meadow Brown which more often rests with its wings closed. It also has double white spots on its ‘eye’ marking and white spots on its hind-wing. I’ve included a photo of both to highlight the differences. It’s thought that the small ‘eye’ markings on this family of Butterflies is to deflect predators (usually birds) from attacking the body, rather than to scare off predators like the bigger eyes of the Peacock (see photo). The Gatekeeper is sexually dimorphic, so the male and female differ slightly- the female has a larger patch of orange while the male has a dark patch of scent scales (androconia) on its fore-wing. These scales give off a scent to attract the female butterflies. Gatekeepers, thought to get their name from their habit of resting on and fluttering near field gateposts, have relatively short probosces, so they favour feeding on open flowers like bramble, ragwort, fleabane and, in our garden, Marjoram. The caterpillars feed on long grasses. Conditions: A sweltering, close day with rain predicted after midnight. Temperature: Max 25- Min 16 C.
‘Eye’ of the Peacock which is thought to have evolved to frighten predators, compared to the eyes of the ‘Browns’ which are thought to just deflect any attack from the body to the wing.
Its relative, the Meadow Brown, at rest, for comparison.
Gatekeeper butterfly, showing its double white spot in the ‘eye’ and white spots on the hind-wing.
Male Gatekeeper at rest, showing its patch of dark scent-scales on middle of its fore-wing.
These two Butterflies make up the notorious “Cabbage Whites”, whose caterpillars can ravage brassica plots in summer. The Large White is especially beautiful- its wing-span is 65-70mm, so it stands out from all other white butterflies. Male and female have grey-black tips to their forewing and anything from white to yellow underwings. The female has two black dots and a dash on its forewing. They lay anything from 40 to 100 yellow eggs in clusters on the underside of the cabbages and related plants that the caterpillars then eat to ribbons once hatched. The adults feed on nectar from flowers like this one on a Buddleia. The Small White can be confused with the innocent Green Veined White (see 7th June blog). The Small White can travel great distances. This was discovered when it was introduced to Melbourne, Australia in 1939. Three years later, within 25 generations, it had spread 1,850 miles to the West coast, where it continues to be a very successful pest! Conditions: Continuing the very hot, dry spell of weather. Temperature: Max 25- Min 16 C.
Small White butterfly
Small White butterfly
Large White Butterfly with its lovely pale yellow hindwing.