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Posts from the ‘Lepidoptera’ Category

Our smallest resident butterfly

Small Blue butterfly, Cupido minimus, male

Cupido minimus – male

The Small Blue Cupido minimus is the UK’s smallest resident butterfly. Females are chocolate brown whilst males, like the one pictured above photographed recently at Martin Down, have a silvery-blue dusting of scales near the base of the wings. The sole food plant is Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria and so it is reliant on the type of grassland habitat where this plant can flourish. It favours areas with broken ground.

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Small elephants

Small Elephant Hawk-moth, Deilephila porcellus

Deilephila porcellus

A few weeks back I helped to show a group of Dutch scientists around Salisbury Plain. On Silk Hill we found a couple of freshly-emerged and rather spectacularly-coloured Small Elephant Hawk-moths Deilephila porcellus. It’s a pretty impressive moth with a wingspan in the range of 40-45mm. It can be found in a range of habitats but it prefers chalk and dry grass habitats where its larvae feed mostly on bedstraws Gallium.

More recently I’ve found a couple in my moth-trap along with the slightly larger Elephant Hawk-moth Deilephila elpenor.

Marsh Fritillary

Marsh Fritillary, Euphydryas aurinia

Euphydryas_aurinia

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve taken over the role of Entomology Sub-group Leader for one of the conservation groups on Salisbury Plain. Each month I lead a BeeWalk in Area 15 which is one of the artillery impact areas in SPTA (C). Earlier in the year we plotted a 5km transect through a variety of habitat and each month a small group of us follow this route and count and identify the bumblebee species we find. The data is uploaded to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT)BeeWalk website. More info about BeeWalk here.

In addition to the bees (which so far have not been numerous) we always find something interesting and this time it was the freshly-emerged Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia. The day was overcast, great for macro photography in my opinion, as the clouds act as a giant softbox, but there was a real nip in the wind so they were rather sensibly keeping well hunkered down in the grass. To get this shot I had to lie on my belly and wait for opportunities for the wind to drop. Low light can be a problem so inevitably it was necessary to push up the ISO to 800.

As many of you will be aware the Marsh Fritillary has declined in its distribution right across Europe, and is now a protected species and therefore the object of much conservation effort. Fortunately Salisbury Plain remains one of its major strongholds in Wiltshire, the UK and Europe.

Perhaps on my next visit, if it is a little warmer, I’ll get lucky and capture a few images with the wings open.

 

Painted Ladies

Painted Ladt, Vanessa cardui

Vanessa cardui

As a final post from my recent trip to Cyprus, here’s a photo of a Painted Lady Vanessa cardui that I managed to get a quick snap of when the sun momentarily dipped behind a cloud. I quite like the painterly quality of this image.

Although reasonably common it proved really difficult to get close enough to get a shot. The heat increased their flightiness and often as not they would close their wings as they sensed my approach. See below. Not that the underside isn’t equally photogenic.

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui

Vanessa cardui

Swallowtail

European Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio machaon

Papilio machaon

I’m back from Cyprus now but while I was there this was one of the butterflies I was keen to photograph, the  European Swallowtail Papilio machaon. This is the subspecies syriacus. I was lucky enough to get this shot early one morning while walking along the cliffs of Kapparis. The colour of the grass in the background will give you some idea of how hot it was.

We get them here in England and I’ve previously written about them in a post about one I photographed in Kefalonia here but our native subspecies britannicus remains a rarity and is confined to the fens of east Norfolk.

However, in some years we do get a few migrants from the continent. This subspecies gorganus is less fussy and will use many kinds of Umbellifer, such as Wild Carrot daucus carota, as the larval food plant. In 2013 there were many sightings in Hampshire, Sussex and Kent including some evidence of egg-laying. In April 2014 a specimen was photographed near Winchester, Hampshire which suggests that some specimens may have successfully over-wintered. More info here.

So the continental species may well become more common in future.

Eastern Bath White

Eastern Bath White, Pontia edusa

Pontia edusa

I’m in south east Cyprus endeavouring to photograph butterflies. It’s not proving easy due to the combination of clear blue skies and an almost constant breeze. The warmth of the sun means they are rather flighty, even at first light and they don’t settle anywhere for long. The bright conditions give rather harsh shadows and the light winds means the vegetation is swaying about like a Brit with too much Keo on board which makes sharpness a challenge. As I said, not easy.

However, yesterday morning while walking along the cliffs near Kapparis there were a few welcome clouds sliding in off the sea and for a brief moment while a white wisp made it momentarily overcast I got this image of an Eastern Bath White Pontia Edusa. According to Butterflies of Cyprus Makris, 2003, this is a very common butterfly found throughout the island.

Seen your first butterfly yet?

Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta

Vanessa atalanta

As I left the office for lunch the other day (Wednesday 28 January) I saw my first butterfly of 2015, a rather tatty Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta similar to this one I photographed last year. This took me by surprise momentarily as it was quite a cold day. It was fluttering around inside the glass canopy that covers the Holly-lined pathway that leads to the entrance of the building and that I suspect was the reason. The combination of the low winter sun and the shelter from the icy wind had warmed it sufficiently to have woken it from its slumber.

The Red Admiral is predominantly a summer migrant that most often arrives in the UK in May and June but a small population do overwinter in the south of Britain and therefore this butterfly is also considered a resident. Unfortunately this hibernation strategy is a risk as many individuals will not survive our winter unless conditions are mild.

However, global warming may help it to become more firmly established as a resident species in the future.

Have you seen your first butterfly of 2015 yet?

 

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Mint moth, pyrausta aurata

Pyrausta aurata

I used to live in what is now called Royal Wootton Bassett. It was just plain old Wootton Bassett when I lived there. But then that was before we were flying back union jack covered coffins from Iraq and Afghanistan. Thankfully most of our troops are back home now.

On sunny days in July I’d often find this tiny moth in my equally tiny courtyard garden basking in the sun. When I had to move home, there it was again in my new garden near Marlborough. Now much as though it would have cheered me no end to imagine it had followed me, perhaps hidden amongst my many books, there had to be a common connection. After giving it some thought I came to the conclusion that it was either attracted to mint or marjoram, or both. Read more

Milk or dark chocolate?

Ringlet, aphantopus hyperantus, female

Aphantopus hyperantus – female

Here’s another photograph from back in July, again from Morgans Hill. This time it’s the Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus.

This example is in full sun and therefore appears to be a rather pale brown, but at least that allows you to see the detail. The plumper body suggests this may be a female. However, when freshly emerged the colour is a much darker, velvety chocolate, verging on almost black in some instances. You can get a flavour of this in the example below that I photographed in July 2012 which I’m guessing may be a male. And a very handsome butterfly it is too with the contrast of the delicate white lace-like fringes to the wing edges.

Note the variation in the spots which are much more prominent on the specimen above.

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Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper, thymelicus lineola, female

Thymelicus lineola – female

Here’s a photo from Morgans Hill that I took back in July of a female Essex Skipper Thymelicus lineola. Followers in North America may recognise this butterfly as the European Skipper. It closely resembles our Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris which it is often found in company with, but that species lacks the black tips to its antenna.

Because of the similarities, it is often under-recorded and for this reason was not recognised as a separate species until 1889. As such it was the last British resident species to be described.

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