Friday, 26 July 2013

Mellow yellow

A nice surprise danced on to our runner beans yesterday - a second generation Brimstone butterfly, freshly hatched from its chrysalis judging by the perfection of its wings. This handsome species is normally associated with the Spring when its role as one of the first butterflies to appear after Winter - apart from a few Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells blearily staggering out of hibernation - may have earned it the honour of giving butterflies their name.

The 'butter-coloured fly' is the theory, first put forward as early as the 18th century when butterflies were still known, as they had been in classical times, as 'flies' and their caterpillars as 'worms'. I should add that the butterfly was also more respectfully described by the ancient Greeks as psyche, the same word as 'spirit', because of the marvel of the adult insect emerging from the chrysalis just as the soul may do from the grave.

To me, the Brimstone is more of a lemony or even limey fly. Perhaps we should campaign for an etymological (and entomological) change to Lemonfly, though I fear that it would be as unsuccessful as Sir Isaac Pitman's use of his shorthand royalties to promote phonetic spelling. Kingston Buildings' old street sign in Bath, reading something like Kingstn Bildingz, was the solitary memorial to this project in my days as a young journalist on the then Evening Chronicle. The Chron is a weekly now and I'm not sure if the sign is still there.

In the same colourway as the Brimstone, behold those mighty ragwort-munchers, Cinnabar Moth caterpillars whose vivid colour combo warns predators that they are poisonous ann enables them to gorge themselves openly. I have defended ragwort before and do so again now. Any fair-minded person spending a bit of time on Google will come to the conclusion, I am sure, that calls for its elimination as a supposedly dangerous weed are ill-judged.

The Hedge Brown - usually a bit shy of opening its wings to show the bright orange, but this one was helpful

Apart from the Brimstone, I saw nine of the UK's 60-odd kinds of butterfly in the garden sunshine yesterday: there were Small, Large and Green-veined Whites in profusion, lots of Ringlets, Meadow Browns and Hedge Browns (also known as Gatekeepers, both names due to their fondness for the edges and hedges of fields), a lofty Peacock, a darting Comma, and a Red Admiral. This looks like being a very good summer after an extremely poor one last year and I don't think we need rocket science to see why. It's the sun what's done it.

A Green-veined White. On close inspection, the 'green' is more of a dusting of little black and grey specks


Phil said...

Hello Martin, Sadly we don't get brimstones up here in Durham (no buckthorn) but we too are enjoying an amazing butterfly summer. It does make me wonder, though, how bad last summer really was because all the first generation butterflies that emerged this year (and we've had loads of small coppers, small heaths, common blues, various skippers, meadow browns, ringlets, to name but a few) must be result of last year's egg-laying and, perhaps more surprisingly, excellent survival of larvae and pupae through the longest,coldest winter in living memory. It does make me wonder how accurate butterfly counts are, unless they are done under comparable weather conditions.

We had seven newly-minted small tortoiseshells on our Inula flowers yesterday, which was a wonderful sight to behold! Kind regards, Phil

Countryside Tales said...

Lucky you with the butterflies- although ours are improving we still don't have many landing on things for photographs!

Martin Wainwright said...

Hi both!

Phil, that's most interesting and specially coming from you. I am very sceptical about natural history doom in general but have scientific authority to support my gut instincts. I do suspect, though, and with a bit more authority from my years in journalism, that editors impose their customary crisis/bad news formula on this subject as on all others, and thus we have a constant dream of tales about threats, declines and suchlike dramas. There may also be a feeling in conservation circles that you have to take this approach to interest people, especially the young, in the subject. I strongly disagree with this and would much rather see the fascination of moths and all else promoted for its own merit. Anyway...great to hear from you and may the sun shine on!

CT, it's extremely trying, stalking butterflies for pics, especially as you age and your hands begin to shake. I was very pleased to have a Hedge Brown co-operate after many sessions of squinting into my little digital viewfinder, always to find their wings tightly closed

all v best as ever


Banished To A Pompous Land said...

As for the Brimstone, its role in my time in Gloucester was to drive me insane while at the same time getting me fit. I spend so much time chasing the spring specimens in folorn hope of them ever settling. I don't recall a single springtime picture. The summer generation were always rather more cooperative.

After my own very very wet spring and the impact of as yet unidentified predators I'm glad to say that the summer generation Black Swallowtails are out in force. I've got over 30 caterpillars on the fennel at the moment.

MartinWainwright said...

How interesting B - mine is very co-operative and as fond of runner beans as Penny and I are.

I am most envious of your Black Swallowtails. I once found two Swallowtail catties on fennel at a Loire valley chateaux and brought them home. They pupated on the way and hatched in front of an awestruck class of children at our boys' primary school. Unforgettable! I never found out whether anyone saw a Swallowtail in Leeds and was duly amazed...

All warm wishes and I recommend your blog to one and all (click on Banished...


Howard said...

This is awesome!