Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Butterfly Interlude.

Marbled White

Woodland Brown

Common Glider

Blue-spot Hairstreak

Scarce Copper

Large Copper

Lesser Purple Emperor

It’s cold and it’s damp, so I thought a few butterflies would warm my blog. The shots were taken in 2008 when I stayed at Farm Lator in Hungry.

The Butterfly Bridge over the Derwent, which had been washed away in the floods of 2008, was on the agenda last weekend. It was so named because of the interest shown by entomologists in the butterflies of the area. No doubt it was a collector’s paradise in years gone by. I have developed a keen interest in butterflies in recent years and having just read Patrick Barkham’s interesting book, The Butterfly Isles, in which he sets off to see all the British species of butterfly in 2009, my mind turned to warmer days and insects. Patrick’s book is far more than a list of butterflies and he goes into some detail as to the lifestyle of each species and the difficulties involved in their conservation. The life of the Large Blue, from egg to adult, is especially interesting.

I imagined a group of Aurelians with nets on the Butterfly Bridge, which incidentally is to be replaced soon, and I found the following information on the internet…..

‘A select group of entomological collectors began meeting at the Swan Tavern in London’s Exchange Alley and by 1742 had founded The Society of Aurelians. “Aurelian”, originating from the Latin word aureus or aureolus, meaning golden or beautiful, was the name adopted by early members of the Society. This related to the iridescent sheen on the chrysalids of certain butterfly species such as the Peacock or Small Tortoiseshell. Tragically the premises in London were destroyed in the Great Fire, 1748, along with all the society records and collections.’

The origin of the English term butterfly is of some interest with numerous thoughts on the matter. Perhaps one of the most likely origins is it that it is related to the Brimstone Butterfly which has yellow colouring resembling butter. There is also a link with medieval superstition that there were that there were fairies or witches in winged form that stole butter and cream. Perhaps a rather less pleasant belief is that there is a connection with the old Dutch word boterschijte…butter shitter, because the excrement of some butterflies looks like butter.

The scientific name of the Brimstone Butterfly is Gonepteryx rhammi, meaning ‘the angle winged butterfly of the buckthorn.’ The Brimstone hibernates as an adult butterfly and is often on the wing as early as February and March. In calcareous areas it lays its eggs on buckthorn.

Lepidoptera is the name given to the order of animals that includes butterflies and moths. Lepidopteron is formed from two Greek words lepis meaning a scale and pteron denoting a wing. Butterflies and moths are distinguished from other insects in having wings composed of scales.

Fritillaries are some of the most beautiful of butterflies and whilst I have seen several species in Europe, I have to confess that I knowingly saw my first in Britain only last year, and that was the Dark Green Fritillary at Smardale, Cumbria. Patrick Barkham writes of his visit to Smardale to find Scotch Argus, another butterfly I saw during our fieldtrip. I now know that the term fritillary was given to butterflies as it is Latin for ‘checkerboard.’ The fritillary butterflies have checkerboard patterns on the upper sides of their wings

The Glanville Fritillary has an interesting history and was once found in much of south-eastern England and as far north as Lincolnshire and in fact the butterfly was once known as the ‘Lincolnshire Fritillary.’ It is now confined to the area of the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands. A small population in Somerset is thought to be an unauthorised introduction. The name of Glanville is derived from a highly respected entomologist by the name of Lady Eleanor Glanville who had collected some of the first specimens. Lady Glanville’s will was contested by relatives under the ‘Acts of Lunacy’ as the relatives argued that ‘none but those who were deprived of their senses would go in pursuit of butterflies.’ The case was found in Lady Glanville’s favour after leading entomologists gave testimony. Perhaps this does reflect the general feeling of that day about the butterfly collectors! Maybe it is a view of butterfly and bird watchers still held by some. :-)

One Butterfly tracked down by Patrick Barkham is the Mountain Ringlet. The only population of this species in England is high on Lakeland fells, including Fleetwith, near Honister Pass in Cumbria’s Lake District. I spent most of my holidays as a child on the farm at the foot of Honister Pass and as I got a bit older I backpacked in the Lake District and have been up on Fleetwith several times. Sadly, even though I have been up there on some very hot summer days I have never seen the Mountain Ringlet. In fact butterflies were the last thing on my mind at that time. Even if I had known they were there it is doubtful if I would have seen them. In cooler weather, and I seem to remember it is often cool in the Lake District, they hide low in the grasses and are almost impossible to find. They require matt-grass. Such are the needs of butterflies that conservation can prove difficult and our changing climate is going to affect them and cause headaches for the conservationists. I do feel a trip up Fleetwith Pike needs to go on my list of things to do next summer however. This short interlude with the butterflies has been enjoyable, but now I must get back to some winter bird watching.

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