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Casual butterfly watching

July 14, 2010

 

Common blue butterfly, June

Common blue butterfly, June

I’ve been trying to keep an eye on butterflies this summer. Not of course checking the company they keep; rather, taking an interest in which of the common species are around at any particular time.

Butterflies in the UK ought to be a manageable subject for casual study. There are only around sixty species after all and many of these you won’t see unless deliberately seeking out their particular homes. Even so, we live close to colonies of grizzled and dinghy skipper as well as black hairstreak and I’m afraid I’ve never seen any of those. I have seen the chalkhill and small blues that live on some of the wonderful chalk nature reserves of the northern Chilterns in Herts and Beds, but not for years.

Given  the lack of time from which we suffer, the only way to do a bit of butterflying is to take more of an interest in the species I see around the farm. Actually I’ve been taking this approach with birds for years; rarely do I go out birding as such, but I do try to keep up with the birds that frequent our bit of Bedfordshire.

Which is all a long-winded way of mentioning that for the first time this year I noticed the gap between generations of common blue butterflies. There were loads around in early June, then their supply seemed to dry up. I fear that our hay cutting has contributed to the change but having looked into the matter, I see that two generations are expected each summer. The second batch of newly emerged adults are expected in early August, something I’ll be on the look out for.

Marbled white on creeping thistle

Marbled white on creeping thistle

I’ve noticed in a fairly vague way over the last two weeks that there are  a lot of marbled whites, Melanargia galathea, and ringlets, Aphantopus hyperantus, about this summer and I’ve found myself saying as much in what I hoped might be a way that suggests I know what I’m talking about. Both species I’ve seen regularly in our small hazel plantation but not any other part of the farm.

On reflection and having checked a text book, I can’t help suspecting that this empirical observation is most likely due simply to the pattern of life cycle of these species. Both marbled white and ringlet emerge as adults during July, just at the point when common blues are between adult generations. So I think my careless “there are a lot of  marbled whites around this year” should more accurately be “Gosh! Looks like the marbled whites emerged yesterday”.

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