Saturday, 4 October 2008
Don't miss next May's thrilling episode
OK, that's it, at least for this year. Dear regular readers, I'll be back in May when trapping starts again. If you've stumbled across this page, or been drawn to it by one of my innumerable email footnote plugs, then please read on - backwards and downwards - should you have time. You may be bored or fed up, or the world may have turned on its dark side for a while. If so, there's a surprising lot of fun and distraction to be had from studying moths. That's true too if you're cheerful and well, which I hope is the case.
For this last entry, I'll do a bit of swanking, though I'm afraid it takes us back to the dark ages of killing bottles and pins. Hard to imagine, now, that I could go on my own into a chemist's shop in Leeds at the age of 12 and chirpily ask for a bottle of killing fluid. And be given one. Anyway, the vivid butterfly in the top picture with the slashes of silver is the rarest I ever caught. I've still got it, as you can see, posed next to the keyboard on which I'm tapping now. It's the Charlotta variety of the Dark Green Fritillary. The standard type is the other butterfly shown, top in the top picture, bottom in the second. The topwings are harder to tell apart, although I remember realising that I'd got something different when I saw the keyhole marks on the border of the bottom wings.
I caught both butterflies above Kynance Cove in Cornwall on the very spot where Prof Edmund Ford made a famous capture of a Monarch, an American butterfly which very occasionally - and probably with the help of ships - makes it to the UK. Most excitingly, for me, the event was recounted to readers of the Yorkshire Evening Post by John Armitage, the wonderful man in charge of the natural history department of Leeds Museum at the time. I've mentioned him before but it bears repeating: he was a brilliant patron of young naturalists and also an exceptionally good forger of postage stamps.
So there we have it. Double-click on the ageing press cutting to read the full story. The last two pictures came my way years later, when I found more references to Charlotta, which was even known by the 19th century woman collector Letitia Jermyn in her 1836 manual, The Butterfly Collector's Vade Mecum, as 'The Queen of England Fritillary.' There's grand. The YEP article, incidentally, was the first time my name appeared in print, apart from class lists in the Bonny Babies' section of Leeds Children's Day 1951. It may be why I became a journalist.