Archive for September, 2013

September 29, 2013

The butterflies you might see in your garden – and those you won’t

29 September 2013

Some butterflies are generalists, and can be seen practically everywhere, while others need specialist habitats. This is a help in identifying butterflies, as it is very unlikely you will see, for example, a Silver-spotted Skipper on your buddleia (as someone once tried to tell me they had): this butterfly needs really warm, chalky habitats with the right sort of grass for their caterpillars. If you lived right next door to a colony of them I can’t say it’s impossible, but the odds probably aren’t far off those of winning the lottery.

The butterflies you could reasonably expect to see in your garden are as follows; the headings refer to the butterfly families, but names referring to colour can be misleading – see my blog on the subject:

Skippers

  • Unlikely, unless you live in a rural area, when you might see the Large or Small Skipper

Whites

Green-veined White

Green-veined White

  • Brimstone
  • Large White
  • Small White
  • Green-veined White
  • Orange Tip

Small Copper and Hairstreaks

Small Copper

Small Copper

  • Small Copper – possible
  • Hairstreaks – none – very specialist

Blues

  • Holly Blue
  • Common Blue

Emperor, Admirals and Vanessids

  • Emperor – no, very specialist and spend most of their time up in the tops of trees
  • Admirals – Red Admiral, not the White Admiral
  • Vanessids – Small Tortoiseshell, Painted Lady, Comma, Peacock

Fritillaries

  • Highly unlikely

Browns

Gatekeeper - male (the females do not have the dark mark across the forewings)

Gatekeeper – male (the females do not have the dark mark across the forewings)

  • Speckled Wood
  • Gatekeeper
  • Meadow Brown
  • Plus Ringlet and Wall Brown, if you live in the right place.

If you want to see some of the non-garden butterflies, read up on what habitats they need so you look in the right places, and check when they are out, so you look at the right time. You may be able to find information on the intenet about particular sites for particular species – in Dorset, for example, there is information at http://www.dorsetbutterflies.com.

September 23, 2013

Late wildlife in the garden

23 September 2013

We’re enjoying a late spell of sunshine at the moment, with the sun still very warm. Today it was cloudy until early afternoon, and there were virtually no butterflies to be seen, but when the sun came out, all of a sudden they appeared. Not only butterflies, but various bees, flies, hoverflies, ladybirds and dragonflies – nothing rare, but a wonderful late season reminder of the wildlife that a lot more people in the UK should be seeing, if only we weren’t mucking up this planet at such a scary rate, and if only people would be a little more wildlife friendly in their gardens. I’m going to dedicate this blog to photos of what I saw today, so you can enjoy them with me. If your garden could have this wildlife, but hasn’t, ask yourself why and see if you can do anything about it.

Comma on scabious

Comma on deep red Scabious. I like this shot because it shows both the under-wing white mark which gives the Comma its name, and its white legs, which amuse me: it looks like they haven’t got tanned yet! All the Commas in the garden today looked very fresh.

Red Admiral on buddleia.

Red Admiral on buddleia ‘Autumn Beauty’ (also called ‘Beijing’). In contrast to the Commas, this butterfly looks rather worm, so I’m guessing that it and the other four I saw are migrants, not locally bred. Five Red Admirals is the most I have seen all year, so maybe we are getting a bit of a late migration.

Brimstone on buddleia

Male Brimstone on magenta-coloured buddleia: this is one of the recently-bred buddleias which do not grow as large as most. I like the way the butterfly is backlit in this photo, so you can see the shape of the body underneath.

Speckled Wood on buddleia.

Speckled Wood on buddleia ‘Autumn Beauty’. It is quite unusual to see this butterfly nectaring: the books say it often uses honeydew in trees (which is a sugary excretion from insects which suck plant-sap, such as aphids.) I saw a Speckled Wood feeding on verbena bonariensis the other day, so maybe honeydew is in short supply this year.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (I think) on Michaelmas Daisy.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (I think) on Michaelmas Daisy.

Male Southern Hawker dragonfly.

Male Southern Hawker dragonfly. Not the best shot, but it was very lively: it may be around again tomorrow, so I’ll have another go.

My final butterfly count was:

Whites – about 7, definitely including Large and Small Whites.

Brimstone – 1

Red Admirals – 5

Comma – 4

Small Tortoiseshell – 3

Speckled Wood – 1

Not bad for late September.

September 9, 2013

Mint Moth

9 September 2013

Have you seen a tiny moth flying around your mint plants? If so, it may be one called Pyrausta Aurata, also known as the mint moth. If you see one, do have a good look at it: it’s a pretty little thing.

Pyrausta Aurata moth

Pyrausta Aurata moth

Pyrausta Aurata has two broods each year, though you may not notice the gap, as the first is in May/June and the second in July/August. I didn’t spot one until August this year, but we might have temporarily reduced its numbers by digging up most of the spearmint in our herb garden, which had completely taken over (see my earlier blog ) and only letting a small amount come back. We do, however, have some other mint in the garden, which I think is buddleia mint: it has a very furry leaf and the lilac-coloured flowers you can see in the picture above, and the flowers are always covered with small insects, including lots of hoverflies and, of course, the mint moth. Pyrausta Aurata does use other plants for breeding as well: Marjoram, meadow-clary, lemon balm and catmint, most of which we also have in the garden.

Small Copper on mint flower

Small Copper on mint flower

You may know you have the mint moth before you actually see the adult flying around. If the tops of your mint/catmint etc. plants looks a mess – leaves curled together and with a bit of a web – it may well be the caterpillar of the mint moth noshing away from within the safety of his rolled-up leaves (see earlier blog on curled leaves). If you see this, leave it alone – the moth will hatch out and your mint will recover. If you can, leave some of your mint to flower (culinary advice is always to remove the flowers to get better leaves), as the flowers will attract other butterflies and moths – like the Small Copper in the photo above, which is on a spearmint flower.

In my experience, you rarely have a little bit of mint in the garden, you have lots, so use some for cooking and leave some to flower and you and the Lepidoptera will be happy.