More Butterflies

You have been reporting not only more butterflies but many of the species which up until now have been missing from your sightings. With a little bit of luck butterflies may be able to quickly bounce back after a couple of bad years; however, that needs to put into perspective. Butterfly Conservation, who are the people who are working to support butterflies, tell us that the latest (2011) report into the state of British butterflies shows the following alarming state of affairs: “Many butterflies have continued to decline: 72 per cent of species decreased in abundance over 10 years and 54 per cent decreased in distribution at the UK level. Overall three-quarters of UK butterflies showed a 10-year decrease in either their distribution or population levels.” Furthermore, “for the first time, a significant decrease in the total numbers of wider countryside butterflies has been recorded. The abundance of these common, ‘garden’ butterflies dropped by 24 per cent over 10 years.” Moths have fared little better with “the total number of larger moths recorded in the national network of Rothamsted trap samples decreased by 28 per cent over the 40 years from 1968 to 2007.”

Butterfly Sightings

Neil Anderson was in Knaresborough walking along Raw Gap where he reckoned on seeing around 200 peacock butterflies and a smaller number of small tortoiseshell enjoying the buddleia which grows there. Elaine Elliott from Calcutt, Knaresborough has also reported peacock on her buddleia along with a comma, whites, red admiral and one solitary small tortoiseshell. Patrica Ricci who lives in Bilton, Harrogate, tells me, “I know where the painted ladies and red admirals are, in my garden.” Sylvia Addyman who lives on a farm near Hampsthwaite wrote about butterflies, saying, “Not expecting to see much in the way of butterflies this year after the terrible summer last year. I am truly amazed at the amount seen so far. Earlier in the year, like many other people, saw lots of ringlets by the pond, beck and on the Greenway at Ripley. Also seen at those places the elusive orange-tip, neither more or less than other years.” Yet again the buddleia has come up trumps and Sylvia’s buddleia has attracted some “truly lovely butterflies,” numerous small whites, ten small tortoiseshell, five peacock, a single comma and “the one which delighted me most was the appearance of a beautiful painted lady, super, as it’s four years since I’ve seen one. As well as all those there was a lovely silver Y moth.” Ron Tasker, from Wetherby, writes, “On August 7, I did a walk based on Wass near Byland Abbey, going via Mount Snever observatory and back by Cam House. Once I got to the higher ground and forest tracks I found peacocks in huge numbers, and I mean huge. Also saw 12 other species including brimstone, holly blue, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, comma, speckled wood and gatekeepers. This area does seem to be a hot spot for butterflies.” Gillie McAvoy (Bilton, Harrogate) writes, “In response to your request for sightings of peacock butterflies - I am pleased to let you know that we have had dozens visiting our buddleia during the recent spell of hot weather.” Peter Dawson has sent some excellent photos of peacock butterflies. Anne Ruddick writes, “On August 4, nine peacock and two white butterflies were seen on my buddleia. There was a third butterfly, which I think was a speckled wood. Numbers of tortoiseshell appear to have dropped off since the ice plants and scabious have begun to die. The highest number of large white butterflies recorded was four on August 2.

Migration Mysteries

Painted ladies migrate here from North Africa and the Mediterranean to be with us, from exactly where is still unknown. Even more remarkable because we knew that these butterflies couldn’t survive our cold winters, so why did they bother? Well in 2009 scientists came up with the amazing news that painted ladies do in fact return to whence they came. These butterflies apparently start to fly north as early as January, probably to escape the intense heat, and they breed and die as they progress, some reaching Britain in February but the majority not before June. No one knew what happened to them after they reached our shores, but scientists have now tracked painted ladies on RADAR and discovered that they make a high altitude, above human eyesight, return journey. This migration gets even more remarkable, in 2009 11 million painted ladies came to Britain and as many as 26 million departed south, clearly a profitable journey. In fact some painted ladies can reach the Arctic Circle and this journey may involve six generations and a trip of 9,000 miles. The findings are based on data from 2009 and published in the journal Ecography.

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