Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wildlife gardening - Butterflies and Moths (1)


Butterflies are amongst the most beautiful of our wild creatures and almost never fail to bring a smile to your face (unless, of course, it's a cabbage white butterfly laying eggs on your cabbages). Their bright colours and delicate wings are a joy to be behold and, if they stay still for long enough, you can clearly see their furry bodies and the patterns on their wings. Moths are not as easy to spot as most of them fly at night, but there are a few that fly in the day time and some are both interesting and lovely to look at. Both butterflies and moths help to pollinate flowers so that the plants will have fruit and seed, so they are good for your wildlife garden. What do they feed on? Butterflies and moths live on the nectar from flowers and in autumn you can also see them drinking the juice from fallen fruit. A strange thing about butterflies is that they have taste buds in their feet, so that they can sample a flower by walking on it, without needing to stick their 'tongues' out first. The butterfly and moth tongues are called a 'proboscis'. The proboscis is surprisingly long and when it isn't sticking out, it is curled up into a tight spiral. When they want to drink nectar they uncurl it and dip it into the flower. In the picture is a small tortoiseshell with its proboscis partly uncurled. We found it in a cool room in our house, where it had been hibernating. It had woken up so we gave it some sugar water before finding it somewhere else to sleep. Unfortunately, because of the reduction in the plants that feed them, there are not as many butterflies and moths about as there used to be. If you plant your garden to attract them, you can help to safeguard their future. What butterfly where? You'll find that you get different types of butterfly in your garden depending on where you live and what sort of plants are growing nearby. In most urban gardens with plenty of flowers you'll see the 'usual suspects': cabbage whites, peacocks, red admirals, commas and small tortoiseshells. The comma butterfly gets its name from a white dot mark on the underside of each of its wings.

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