Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Safe haven?

When you have a general clear-up and sort-out in the winter months, as we are doing, you are almost certain to come across a hibernating butterfly somewhere in the house. Sometimes it will be a Small Tortoiseshell but more commonly a Peacock. It will be very hard indeed to wake, so you can study it at leisure, although the wings are normally tightly-folded and the beautiful colours hidden.

The habit accounts for the sudden appearance of butterflies during warm winter spells which in turn has led to stories and legends of their significance. The opening run of a play, with the ideal hibernating place of the theatre curtains suddenly disturbed, is a well-known example, supposedly boding well for the show.

I don't want to try to be too scientific, for fear of spoiling such notions; but finding this Peacock in the picture, tucked deep inside a storage shelf, has set me wondering about predation, especially by mice - whose droppings were nearby as you can see - or spiders, which had built webs over the very front of the shelf. Sure enough, if you type 'hibernating butterflies' and 'predators' into Google, all manner of fascinating papers on this subject are to be found.

I have only just started reading them; and have yet to type 'spiders' in as well. But already I have learned that flicking the wings with a hissing sound, which Peacocks can do, may have evolved as a winter defence.  Happy research, if the subject interests you. What curiosity one slumbering insect can inspire...

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