Saturday, 13 April 2013

Vanessa comes calling

Rain is stopping play overnight but during a dry spell this afternoon, we were visited by our first Vanessid butterfly of the year. In Leeds, that is - I saw a Peacock last week in Oxford and know where another one is hibernating down there. On the Banbury Road a Brimstone also fluttered past us; not a Vanessid but just as bright and cheering with its sulphurous yellow.

Our Leeds visitor was this Small Tortoiseshell, one of the commonest of UK butterflies but extremely lovely - as are its fellow members of the Vanessa tribe, the Peacock, Red Admiral and Painted Lady. None of them are rare - except perhaps as examples of common animal species in the UK being much nicer than many rare ones. A similar example amnog birds is the jay, apart from its awful cry (allegedly given to it by the gods as a punishment for being vain about its handsome appearance).

The Valezina variety
Why Vanessids? It's too late to ask Fabricius who chose the name for this particular butterfly family in 1807, the year before he died. For those who like mathematical fun, the same group of numbers differently arranged - 1708 - form the year when Vanessa was coined as a girl's name by Jonathan Swift from his tutee Esther Vanhomrigh. While I'm in this erudite vein, can I also draw your attention to the great entomologist F.W.Frohawk who named his daughter Valezina after a variety of the Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly; and to Edith Sitwell's only novel I live Under a Black Sun which is a strange and brilliant take on Swift, Vanessa and Stella (another tutee called Esther Johnson).

final fascinating fact: Swift was kidnapped as a baby by his nanny and taken to her native Whitehaven because she missed that lovely Cumbrian town so much.  But that's more than enough for one post, specially considering the total absence of moths. Although check out my tailpiece pic below...

The Common Swift moth

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