Old World Swallowtail
The slight gap in posts is due to the fact that I had to jet off to the Greek island of Kefalonia to fix my good friend Captain Corelli’s mandolin. Whilst staying in the charming harbour village of Assos I was lucky enough to get a photo of this fabulous Old World Swallowtail Papilio machaon and its equally stunning caterpillar, see photo at end of post. All it took was an early morning trek up a mountain to a small fortress built in 1593 by the Venetians.
It may surprise some readers to learn that that this spectacular insect can be seen here in England. Although the British species, Papilio machaon britannicus is restricted to the Norfolk Broads and is now one of our rarest butterflies, partly due to the distribution of the sole larval foodplant, Milk-parsley Peucedanum palustre.
In comparison britannicus is slightly smaller, darker and more strongly marked.
In addition each year we get sightings of the continental subspecies gorganus, a migrant from Europe which occasionally takes a wrong turn at Belgium and reaches our south coast. This subspecies is less fussy in regards to its choice of larval food plant and will use many kinds of Umbellifer, including Wild Carrot, Angelica and Hogweed and even cultivated garden plants like Carrot and Fennel. This year there have been several sightings already, particularly in Sussex.
It is thought that as a result of climate change this mediteranean species may eventually begin to colonise southern Britain so this butterfly may become a common sight in 20 years or so. But the downside is that it will hybridise with the last of our native swallowtails and ultimately we’ll lose our own subspecies.