Thursday, 8 September 2011

Singing the blues

It sounds sad, but some of my happiest moments on holiday were spent poised over small butterflies as they sipped nectar in the French sun, all with their wings tightly closed. I was willing them to open, because these were the Blues, jewel-like butterflies which give vivid snatches of my favourite colour in flight, as above, but very seldom show any at rest, as below.

I marvel at the number of photographs in existence which show Blues displaying their top wings, and at the patience which must have been involved. So why was I happy? Because (a) it was blissfully warm and (b) I was sure that eventually one of the pesky insects would succumb.

Hooray! A few did. The beautiful trio above are only Common Blues (I am fairly sure; regulars will be familiar with my blunders), but aren't they lovely? And here's the female, below; not as fabulously-coloured but a beautiful, dainty butterfly especially when recently-hatched and still with its delicate white Laura Ashley petticoat rim.

There are enormous numbers of Blues on the continent, many differing only slightly, not only in their patterning but in their names: eg we have Oberthur's, Agenjo's, Rippart's, Higgins' and Gallo's Anomalous Blues, all named after experts who presumably spotted their (tiny) anomalies from the norm. There's even a Martin's Blue, I'm delighted to say, which lives in North Africa on stony slopes and may be flitting around Colonel Gadaffi even now.

The others I saw included the Silver-studded Blue, named after the small dabs of sparkle on its lower wings' outer rim of spots like teenagers' eye makeup, as in the picture above (double-click on it to see more closely). This butterfly has an interesting relationship with ants which conduct its caterpillars into their nests to pupate. 'Without ants,' says my Butterfly Bible, 'larvae become very agitated and usually die.'

And lastly, on the way to Bergerac airport, I saw this female tailed Blue, obligingly showing not only the colour of her forewings but her neat little tails. I assumed that she was a Long-tailed Blue but her underwing - right - suggests that she's actually an interesting butterfly called the Geranium Bronze, a 'Blue' accidentally introduced to the Balearics in 1990 in a consignment of pelargoniums from South Africa. It rapidly spread to Spain, has been recorded in Rome and Brussels, and now seems to be settling in France. Patience is usually vindicated. And that's the end of my holiday Blues.


worm said...

Leadign on from your lovely Geranium Bronze Martin, here's a question - there are plenty of incidences of Moths becoming a pest animal - but are there any incidences of butterflies becoming a pest?

MartinWainwright said...

Hail your Wormishness!

Excellent question. And how apposite - because Tolman & Lewington in my Butterfly Bible say of the Geranium Bronze, inter alia:

'...the species quickly became a pest throughout this island (Majorca)...while a preference for flowers and flower buds is shown, larvae attack all aerial components of Pelargonium...the widespread popularity of Pelargonium as ornamental plants would seem conducive to further dispersion..."

(Yes, T has a rather stately style)

The other instance which comes to mind is the depredation of the Large, Small and Green-veined Whites which accounts for their collective name of 'Cabbage Whites'.

Given the ratio of UK butterflies to moths - some 58:2,600, that's getting towards pestilential even stevens, I think

All warm wishes


Cyren said...

The first picture in this entry - though out of focus - is the best one for me! The blue of the insect's wings are simply striking!!! Speaking of blue butterflies, there are quite a number around our University and we have this canopy bridge where you can see - among the foliage - their larvae being raised by weaver ants!

MartinWainwright said...

How interesting about the weaver ants, Cyren. Thanks ever so. I know a lot of research has been done into this connection and I must check it out. The ants must benefit in some way from the relationship, but I don't (yet) know how.

Sorry about the first picture's focus - but like you, it's my favourite because it does at least capture the extremely vivid blue. One day I will hit really lucky...

All best as ever