Brilliant butterflies and moths, dragonflies, a beetle and a slow-worm
June has been hot and by the end of the month many insect food plants had shrivelled and their flowers were unable to provide the nectar leading to a further decline in this year’s insect population. However, while numbers of butterflies and moths have been reduced I have seen many that bring light to our parish countryside.
Starting with the butterflies, bramble flowers around the edge of the village green have provided nectar and resting places for small tortoiseshells (with those brilliant orange and blue markings (image 1), the red and black coloured red admiral (image 2), and the bright orange comma (image 3), all of whose caterpillars feed on stinging nettle although comma caterpillars also feed on hop, currants and willow.
Competing with each other for territory in woodland glades are speckled wood butterflies, here in the wooded end of our garden, (images 4 and 5). Speckled woods rest with their wings open in the sunlight but disappear from sight as they land with their wings closed on the woodland floor. Unlike many other butterflies, speckled woods feed in the tree tops on honey-dew covered leaves while their caterpillars are woodland edge grass feeders.
The long grasses on the village green have seen many meadow brown butterflies (image 6). Their caterpillars feed on the grasses and so have a problem when the hay meadows are cut in late June-July. By late June many will have been around for some time and getting rather tattered.
Another grass feeder on the village green is the distinctively black and white coloured marbled white (image 7). Some years ago, there was a thriving colony on the village green but in recent years the numbers have declined, possibly because their grass foodplants get cut for hay just as their caterpillars are maturing and forming their pupae.
Also grass feeders are the skippers. Large skippers are out first, the largest species with checkered wing patterns (image 8). The males have a black scent streak on their forewings (image 9) which I read emits pheromones attractive to the females. During June they are soon followed by the common small skipper and smaller numbers of the very similar Essex skipper (with black underside antennae tips).
Turning now to the moths which we attract at night using our garden ultraviolet moth trap. What could be more welcome than the elephant hawkmoth (image 10). They appear at the same as the honeysuckle flowers on which they feed at night. Their elephant trunk-like caterpillars feed on rosebay willow-herb and garden fuschias. Less bright but rather larger is the poplar hawkmoth (image 11) and whose size can be judged from the egg box it is resting on. Poplar hawkmoth caterpillars feed on poplars and willows. Just as large but more spectacular is the eyed hawkmoth (image 12) with eye markings on their underwings; their caterpillars feed on willows and apples.
In contrast to the large hawkmoths are the much smaller but very distinctive plume moths of which the white plume with feathery wings is the most obvious (image 13). Different again is the large white or pale yellow swallow-tailed moth and that rests with its wings wide open like a butterfly (image 14).
Moth heads are always interesting and here is the head of the peppered moth with its large feathery antennae (image 15). Male moth antennae have a massive surface area and are apparently capable of detecting very small amounts of pheromones emitted by females. A zigzag marked black and white moth is the black arches (image 16), quite common at this time of year.
Brilliantly coloured in torchlight is the burnished brass moth (image 17). I read that their wings have a ‘nano-structured surface that gives them a prominent golden (brassy) color as a result of interference, scattering, and absorption of light. This, is in the form of a layered photonic structure with a large refractive index contrast, whose alternating layers are rough at the nanoscale level. Theoretical analysis shows that the scattering and interference interact to enhance the local field within the layers and increase the absorption of the material, particularly in the ultraviolet-blue part of the spectrum’, see https://www.materialstoday.com/biomaterials/comment/burnished-brass-the-biomimetic-moth/.
Other insects and a slow-worm
It was good to see a tree bumblebee feeding on village green brambles (image 19), a brightly coloured species first found in the UK only recently in 2001 and often found living in the eaves of houses and bird nest boxes.
Lack of publicly accessible ponds in the parish means that we do not see many dragonflies, however it was pleasing to find this broad-bodied chaser dragonfly chasing off others of its species on the Seven Stars pond and where it probably breeds. One of our parish water troughs holds a small colony of emperor dragonflies, normally found along streams, large ponds and riversides. Their larvae need vertical vegetation to climb to emerge successfully, but here in the trough they have difficulty emerging and often die on the water surface. I have put sticks in to provide them with emergence locations (image 22). This greenish colour indicates a female but that unfortunately failed to develop its wings properly.
Finally, if the sun is out we can always find slow-worms (image 24), a species of legless lizard, under our garden wildlife refugia tins along with nesting bank voles, and sometimes shrews, grass snakes, frogs and toads, and other creatures.