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The Clouded Yellow

Clouded Yellow – Colias croceus (Male)

Colias croceus – Male

The Clouded Yellow Colias croceus isn’t a butterfly most of us get to see every year. It’s a summer migrant from southern Europe. If you live near the coast in Devon or Dorset and you’re the type of person that looks then you might get to see one or two each year. But further north you can go for years without seeing one at all. In nine out of ten years it is scarce. Then for reasons that we don’t fully understand we get an invasion. A glorious ‘Clouded Yellow year’ where numbers can be exceptional and individuals can be seen throughout the country and if we are truly blessed as far as southern Scotland.

Sadly the year after, again for reasons we don’t fully understand, numbers can be extremely poor.

So having spotted a dozen or so on Saturday afternoon at Martin Down NNR in Hampshire, I did the only sensible thing and went back again on Sunday morning. Well, that and the fact that my photos from Saturday were truly shocking. In my defence they’re tricky to photograph in as much as when they land they immediately fold their wings, plus they are all too easily spooked.

As you can see the underside is attractive enough but you really need to get out there and see them flying to see the upperside which is rather stunning – something not lost on the Victorian collectors. Both upper wings are a warm sulphur yellow with black margins. The upper with a single black eye-spot, the lower with a double dark orange, yellow-edged eye-spot. For a change the female has the edge in colouration in that the black margin is sprinkled with bright yellow dots. These are absent in the male. The French have a good name for this butterfly ‘Le Souci’ (The Marigold) which is very descriptive of the upper wing colour.

I saw plenty of Clouded Yellows in Cyprus earlier in the year so it was great to see them here in good old blighty.

The cannabilistic Cinnabar

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar – Tyria jacobaeae

Tyria jacobaeae

This striking gold and black and surprisingly hairy caterpillar is the larval stage of the scarlet and dark charcoal Cinnabar Moth Tyria jacobaeae. The adult can be identified by the two bright red spots and the long red stripe down the leading edge of its dark grey/black forewing and its all red hindwing. It is named after the mineral ‘cinnabar’ once used by artists as a red pigment for painting. The bright colours of both the adult and larvae are a warning to predators that it is mildly poisonous.

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Gatekeeper or Meadow Brown?

Gatekeeper Butterfly – Pyronia tithonus

Pyronia tithonus

This is the Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus formerly and perhaps more appropriately known as the Hedge Brown or ‘Hedge Eye’. This butterfly can only be confused with a female Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina. However, in comparison it is much smaller and overall a much brighter orange. Where the Meadow Brown has one white spot in the centre of the black eye-spot on the upper wing, the Gatekeeper, as you can see, almost always has two. Also, with wings folded the Gatekeeper has a row of small white dots on its lower underwing, whereas the latter, if it has any, not all do, will have small dark dots. Plus, you are much more likely to find it like this, wings wide-open, basking on a leaf in a hedgerow soaking up the sun.

But beware, both species are subject to variation. I’ve seen Meadow Brown’s with two white spots and Gatekeeper’s with one. So it’s worth keeping a look out for aberrations. If you are lucky you may even find one of the heavily spotted multiocellata variations which can be very pretty indeed. Just remember to carry your camera, because of course I didn’t.

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