Thursday, 20 August 2009

Scarcely bettered

More from Jessie's camera this morning. She also got these excellent pics of a Scarce Swallowtail over in the foothills of the Pyrneees. It's quite honoured to have an English name since you will be incredibly lucky to see one here. Really, it should be called the Hardly Ever Seen Swallowtail. On the continent, though, they are commoner than our more yellow version, or its slightly larger equivalent, the Southern Swallowtail. It's a lovely insect, like a small flying zebra.

I brought some caterpillars back once, from their rather distinguished home in the gardens at the chateau de Villandry in the Loire. They chrysalised and we managed to release the adults up at the primary school when the boys were there. The children were wide-eyed. I must check the Yorkshire Butterflies some time, to see if any of their members caught sight of these exotic introductions, and were wide-eyed too.


Unknown said...

Hi Martin,

A lovely photo from Jessie there. I presume the Scarce Swallowtail gets it name from the shape of its wings, but i would be intrested to know what other purpose its forked tail serves.


MartinWainwright said...

Hi Tom, sorry In only just found your comment while scrolling idly back through the blog, now that it's pretty much finished for this year, to see if I'd missed any, or if there were any (relatively) latecomers such as yourself.
Good old Jessie. She spent quite a while tracking it down and, yes, the name is from the shape, like the old swallowtail coats men used to wear (and a bit like the red kites you see on the road from Leeds to Harrogate).
There has been a lot of erudite work down on the tail 'streamers' and the consensus seems to have moved from some form of mating display to aerodynamics. Studies have shown that the tails allow the butterflies to glide faster and dive more steeply, so they are probably the result of natural selection as a defence mechanism. But we don't know for sure, yet.
All warm wishes