Thursday, March 27, 2008


If you live near open fields, you may see a speckled wood or a gatekeeper butterfly. Many butterflies of open fields have a habit of moving very fast (so it isn't as easy for them to be caught and eaten by birds) and it can be difficult to get a good look at them, because every time you get to where they've stopped, they fly off again - but do persevere as they can be very pretty to look at close up. The gatekeeper butterfly in the picture is feeding on the rich nectar in clover flowers growing in a field. Even though one of its wings is a bit ragged, it flew very fast in a zig zag pattern that was difficult to keep track of and it took quite a while to get a photograph. Sometimes, it can be easier to take a picture and then look at it at home, rather than trying to examine a butterfly close up in real life. Many woodland butterflies don't move as quickly as field butterflies and are easier to observe. The speckled wood butterfly in the picture has a slower, less erratic flight and also has colours that help it to blend into the dappled shade of its woodland home. I got quite close to this one and it didn't fly away. If you live near grassy chalk hillsides, you may be lucky enough to see one of the UK's beautiful blue butterflies. Moths
There are probably as many moths about at night as there are butterflies during the day. Many of them are a lot duller in their colouring than butterflies but they are still interesting to look at and some of them are very pretty. While most moths fly at night, not all of them do. The moth on the right is a Silver-Y moth - you can just make out the squiggly, creamy 'y' on its right wing. Some breed in the southern UK but many migrate here in summer and can arrive in large numbers. In 2006 there was a huge migration of Silver-Y moths to the UK, and we had hundreds of them in our garden for several weeks. They spent most of their time around oregano and lavender flowers. Another day-time flyer is the hummingbird hawk moth. Like the Silver-Y, it is also a migrant and the ones we see in the UK have often flown over from France.

The humming-bird hawk-moth is so called because it looks and behaves much like a hummingbird. Its wings flap so fast that they are just a blur and it moves very quickly from flower to the next, always hovering over the flowers it feeds from. The humming-bird hawk-moth in the picture was seen in September 2005, which was a good year for them. You can just see its proboscis sticking out as it moves in to feed on a honeysuckle flower. Burnet moths also fly in the day time and are worth looking out for to see their striking colours. Their heads, bodies and legs are black, while their wings are a dark charcoal colour with six bright red spots on each wing. They live in areas with plenty of wild flowers for the adults and caterpillars to feed on. The moths in the picture are feeding on knapweed flowers. These moths favour grass land, with many wild flowers, as their home. They don't 'do' much, as far as humans are concerned, but they are an important part of the food chain and provide part of the diet of many birds. Many field moths and butterflies are in danger because of the loss of grassland due to farming and building development. The plume moth is another one to look out for. This is my favourite kind of moth, because I find it so strange and beautiful. When this type of moth is resting, it's wings appear very narrow, but when they take flight the wings open up into five or more segments, with each segment overlapping the other. Plume moths can be found in many gardens in summer as well as in grass land and on waste ground. They will sometimes be found indoors on summer and autumn evenings, where they will show up as a small 'T' shape on a wall, ceiling or window. Somewhere to hibernate As well as needing food and shelter in summer, butterflies and moths also need somewhere to hibernate. This should be somewhere sheltered and unheated so that they can sleep through the winter till spring without being disturbed. Some will find gaps in walls or in piles of wood. Others may get into barns, open sheds, outbuildings or greenhouses where they will tuck themselves into gaps and go to sleep. The butterfly in the picture was in our house, sleeping amongst the leaves of a house plant. This wasn't really a good place for it because, although it was in a room which isn't used a lot, it does sometimes get heated which will wake the butterfly up. Hibernating butterfly If a butterfly wakes up from hibernation, then it will need to eat something if it is to survive till spring. If you find a sleeping butterfly in your house, and it wakes up, give it some sugar water and then put it in an unheated, sheltered place so it can continue to hibernate. If you do need to move a butterfly, try not to touch its wings if you can avoid it, as they are very delicate and are easily damaged.

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