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?
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.
Recently I set off to look for the Ivy Bee Collettes hederae, no luck but as soon as I crossed the river I found this spectacular looking caterpillar. It’s the larva of the Vapourer Moth Orgyia antiqua which are sometimes called Rusty Tussock Moths. The males, which can sometimes be found flying during the day, are a rich chestnut brown colour and have two distinctive white spots on the wings. The female is unusual in that she is completely wingless and resembles an overweight furry grey grub. There’s more info and images here on the excellent UK Moths website.
Pararge aegeria – male
The Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria seems to be having a good year in Wiltshire. Whenever I’ve ventured near a patch of sun dappled woodland it’s magically appeared. Darting out to give me the once over before spiralling skywards for a honeydew top-up or returning to a favourite perch to soak up just a little more sunshine.
It’s always a welcome sight in my eyes but these adults will soon be gone as Autumn’s chill is upon us. This one looks to be a male.
It’s unusual as it is the only butterfly in Britain that can survive the winter as either a larva (caterpillar) or a pupa (chrysalis) before emerging again in the spring next year. Although it’s believed the caterpillars need to have reached their third instar (moult).
Get out and enjoy them while you still can.
Gonepteryx rhamni, male
I’ve been chatting to Michael Marlow via email about insects and macro photography. I explained that the majority of my photographs are essentially record shots and that I rarely take more artistic photos. But here’s an exception, a photo of a male Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni nectaring on Devils-bit Scabious and here’s another from a post last year.
I guess what’s probably most surprising about that statement is the fact that I am an artist or designer of sorts, albeit primarily a graphic artist and illustrator by profession. However, I have dabbled more seriously on the fine-art side of things and in this I was much encouraged by my late father-in-law, Gerard Lumley or Marcel Zouf as he liked to be known when working as an artist. He’s much missed.
For me though the fine-art path to be a serious painter led to nothing but trouble. Dilettantism, depression, and ultimately divorce. Well there’s only so much narcissistic self-destruction a relationship can take. Fortunately none of my paintings survive. I’ve rarely picked up a pencil or brush in the last 12 years but maybe my interest in insects will inspire me to start drawing again and who knows you might even get to see a doodle or sketch on this blog.
Incidentally, Michael’s just written an excellent series of articles about the reverse-lens method and diffused-flash on his excellent blog BugPhoto.net which I can highly recommend.
Metrioptera roeselii – male
Taking macro photos of insects is as much about luck as anything. But of course you increase your luck by being out there. I was laying on Morgans Hill trying to take a photograph of a grasshopper when this little lady crawled out of the grass allowing me to get this side-on shot. It’s a female Roesel’s Bush-cricket Metrioptera roeselii. You can tell it is a female by the scythe-like ovipositor and that it is Roesel’s by the yellow/green edge to the pronotum and the three spots/patches just behind on the abdomen.
Roesel’s are normally brown or yellow-brown with a hint of green and maybe a touch of red but this may be the rarer green form.
This is a cricket that was rare in Britain prior to the 20th Century and pretty much only found on the South-East coast of England. Since then it has rapidly increased its range in the South, to the North and West possibly helped by the rough grassland found along the sides of many of our roads which have provided it with ‘corridors’ inland.
It favours damp grassland that is relatively undisturbed. The male’s high pitched stridulation is meant to sound like the crackle of overhead electricity cables. Have a listen here thanks to http://www.orthoptera.org.uk
It’s also said to be reminiscent of the song of the Savi’s warbler. You can listen to that here thanks to http://www.rspb.org
Let me know what you think?