Again, harping back to last July, I took a stroll around a piece of woodland called Brampton Wood with a good friend of mine who is a bit of an expert on butterflies. Which is why we went to Brampton, which is ancient woodland made up primarily of oak, ash and maple and is famed for it’s exotic and scarce Lepidopterans such as black hairstreak, white admiral and silver washed fritillary.
Large skipper – Ochlodes sylvanus
We didn’t see any of the rare species, mainly because the weather was generally unsuitable, but probably also because we were talking too much and not paying sufficient attention, but the species we did see gave some lovely photographs.
The large skipper is part of a big family of butterflies called the Hesperiidae or the ‘skippers‘, so called because they dash around from flower to flower in a skipping motion. They are also easily distinguished as a skipper because of the way they fold there wings at different angles when they are perched (for those of you with an aeronautical interest they remind me of the US Navy plane the F18 Hornet).
Gatekeeper, Pyronia tithonus, patrolling a leafy ride
The gatekeeper is a common hedgerow butterfly, but as with all the other wildlife in this part of the world, it suffers at the hands of intensive agriculture particularly when that involves grubbing out hedgerows. In 2010 my daighter and I did the annual ‘Big Butterfly Count’ in a scrubby field at the end of our road and we counted 11 species in the allotted 15 minute window, including the gatekeeper. A few weeks ago the tenant farmer, obviously a public spirited soul, grubbed out all the scrub and brambles which were home to all the butteflies, so I suspect numbers of all Lepidoptera, and the resident dragonflies, will be severely depleted this year. Which is a real shame as the field is fallow and not doused with chemicals so was a particularly good site for insects. The dark patches adjacent to the black spots on the forewings of the butterfly here are called the ‘sex brand‘ and mark this one out as a male, the same markings being absent in the female. The gatekeeper is also known as the ‘hedge brown’ which gives you a clue as to its preferred habitat.
The splendid creatrure below isn’t a butterfly, it’s a six spot burnet moth:
Six spot burnet – Zygaena filipendulae – adding some additional colour to a thistle head
The burnet moths consist of the burnets and forester families, they are day flying creatures and all have club shaped antennae. The six spot burnet is found in grassland feeding on thistles, scabius and and knapweeds, and its flight season is from late June to August. Apparently the red spots can sometimes be yellow, but I’ve never seen a yellow one.
I’ve never seen anything quite like your burnet moth. So colorful!
He’s a beauty isn’t he. We have several similar species here and they are all spectacular, especially when they’re perched on a flower.
Beautiful! Those burnet moths are exceptional. They must be distasteful with those bright warning spots.
Thanks Sue, I’m guessing the burnets don’t taste too good – unless it’s all a cunning biological subterfuge.
Butterflies and moths are one of my favourite groups, one that I delight in seeing individuals fluttering from plant to flower to somewhere only the butterfly knows. Strangely, my butterfly ID is not very good, but I kinda like not always knowing what’s what as I enjoy simply seeing them, and not analysing their ecology etc. I enjoy them purely for them =]
There is something uplifting about seeing a colourful butterfly and it is good to appreciate them for what they are. I’m hoping to get some pictures of purple emperors and hairstreaks and maybe some other brightly coloured ones to show later in the year.
Lovely! I think if I had seen that burnet moth I would have been much too hasty and called it a cinnabar moth! I didn’t realise there were so many red and black types…
Best wishes 🙂
Thanks Pat, when I looked up some information on the six spot I was also surprised by all the foresters and burnets… and their yellow spot versions too. There are an amazing number of moths, both nocturnal and diurnal, in the UK.
Beautiful images. Skippers and the gatekeeper are amongst my favourite butterflies. So far this Spring I’ve seen quite a few brimstones – probably more than I’ve ever seen at the same time of year previously.
Hello Meanderer, I heard that the brimstones were emerging early in the warm weather, but the only ones I’ve seen (3 individulas) were on that very warm Sunday we had a couple of weeks ago. There have also been peacocks and small tortoiseshells out up here and I’m hoping to see a holly blue in the not too distant future.
I FOUND him! 🙂 Turns out he has orange/yellow spots and a yellow head but otherwise they are pretty similar…
Hello Fran, thanks for the link, your tiger’s a beauty!
Wonderful photos, Finn. I didn’t know why skippers were so called, thank you for enlightening me. You did really well counting 11 species in 15 minutes, I’m sure I’ve never come close to seeing that many different butterflies in such a short space of time. That moth is amazing, it’s like a cartoon beastie.
Thanks Lorna, I must confess I was surprised too that we saw 11 species in the time. I’d seen all of them there before but on that day the weather was perfect, and it was before the bitter winters and the scorched earth policy of the farmer had been implemented 😦
That 6 spot burnet looks a dead ringer for the little moth that was just about EVERYWHERE a month or so back. I walk over the Batman Bridge here with Earl once a week or so to walk in the large park area on the other side and these little guys were littered all over the bridge as well as just about everywhere else. I wonder what our local versin is actually called? They look very similar to yours :).
Hello Fran, let me know if you find out what your spotty chaps are.
I tried this morning but will try harder now. They look exactly like your spotty blokes and we had a whole lot of them all over the place not so long back. Almost a plague of them and they were everywhere.
I rather like that 6 spot burnet moth.
Lovely photos. How lucky you are to see so many species of butterfly in the wild.
Hello Vicki, do you not have so many butterfly species in your neck of the woods? I’d imagined the greener parts of Oz to be festooned with them!
We do have some real beauties here and I’m hoping for a warm dry summer so I can try to photograph some of the more eyecatching species… as well as the diminishing numbers of everyday ones.
Unfortunately living in the inner city as I do, I see less of insects, birds and wild animals,, Finn.
I rarely see butterflies settle on a leaf in order to take a photo. Most of the ones I see in my own little garden are Cabbage Moth butterfly and the Monarchs. I have seen a couple of Skippers. But that’s about all.
I’ve seen some beautiful ones in the Butterfly House at Melbourne Zoo – Cairns Birdwing, Chequared Swallowtail, Wanderer, Lemon Migrant and a bright blue one which I don’t know the name.
Without a car, I only get up to my brother’s farmlet in the country and there are definitely no butterflies there (that I’ve seen). Only dry dusty fields in summer and thick tall grass in winter.
I suspect there might be lots more in Northern Australia, but that’s just a guess.
I think we must be quite lucky here in the UK, we have hundreds of moths and butterflies but I guess our prevailing mild damp climate is more ideal for them. I’m going to try to get out and about and photograph some of the more exotic ones this year.