Thursday, August 06, 2009

More butterflies

' Butterflies are creatures of little importance and have never played much part in international commerce, either of goods or ideas...'

( A Handguide to the Butterflies and Moths of Britain and Europe by Wilkinson and Tweedie, now out of print)

While I suppose of all the wild world, birds are dearest to my heart, there's something about butterflies.

Their naming, for one thing. No other creatures seem to have been named with such whimsical abandon, with so little regard for informative exactitude, with such flights of subjective imagination. I spend quite as long browsing in the butterfly book as any other, which for me, without sacrificing anything of scientific integrity, succeeds in being a great source of poetry and wonder.

There are the gatekeepers, whose brief emergence coincides each year with the marjoram flowers,



red admirals - this one looks to have been rather in the wars -



and brimstones, which were perhaps the ones originally called butterflies, their pale yellow colour resembling butter. The ones I was able to photograph, however, were all females, who are a delicate greenish white. Today though, I notice there are many of the primrose coloured males around. (Notice the tiny green caterpillar on the flower petal to the right of the picture, I didn't when I took it.)


They are, in some way, a little like animated flowers, they blossom then fade and disappear, coming in waves, their size and intensity of colour and markings often varying with the moment of their flowering. We had a great and unprecedented wave, quite early in the spring, of these painted ladies.



They were large, but seemed quite faded and fragile, somewhat as their name suggests. Then we saw fewer of them, until there was another burgeoning of them in the last few weeks, and these seemed smaller but sturdier and more intensely marked and coloured. In these explosion years they appear in numbers in Britain too, though other years they are scarce. It is, it seems, among the most widespread of all butterfly species, there is even a sub-species in Australia. In French she is called la cosmopolite.

Some, of course, are named in a more workaday or obvious way, like this small copper (below), a tiny insect, perhaps half the size of the small white, which took some stalking to capture,


and the ever-glorious peacock, which needs neither introducing nor explaining. One butterfly website I visited said that even many well-travelled lepidopterists consider it to be one of the most beautiful in the world.


While some, like the scatty large and small 'cabbage' whites in the previous post, are quick and elusive, difficult to photograph, and when they do land they often keep their wings frustratingly closed, others, like the small tortoiseshell below, are quite easy to capture, and bask, for quite long periods, with their pretty wings openly displayed.



When I was a child, I had a friend, my second best. She was a rather sad girl who told terrible fibs that drove me mad, but she had a passion for butterflies. We would run round to a piece of rough ground near to my house and her father's motor bike garage, where she was often left to kick her heels after school, and try to catch the butterflies on the 'butterfly bush', a mauve buddleia. This shrub didn't seem so frequent then as it does now. We caught them in fishing nets, the kind on a wire loop poked into a bamboo cane, but we always let them go. It seemed to us that the more special and colourful the butterfly, the cleverer it was; the cabbage whites were easily caught, and once trapped in the net, flew upwards and were unable to escape. The cleverest were the peacocks and red admirals, and to a lesser extent the tortoiseshells, which seemed more aware of the perils of the nets, and, if you caught one, you had to quickly pinch the opening of the net closed, or they would fly downward and out. But I have never read or heard of anything to confirm our childhood observations on the relative intelligence of different species of lepidoptera...

We have plenty of buddleia in the garden, but it is not the most attractive plant to the butterflies. That distinction falls to the purple perennial wallflower, on which most of these butterflies were photographed. It is an unremarkable plant, but it goes on and on through spring summer and autumn, and they clearly love it, and eschew the buddleia in its favour.


Others, like this comma, while feeding on the flowers,



seem to like to spend time on the leaves of the laurel hedge. The name comes from the tiny, comma-shaped raised marking you can see on the underside of the wing to the left of the picture. An oddly obscure feature to give the creature its name...




I'm not quite sure why they like the laurel, perhaps because its shininess reflects heat back up to them. Early in the year, numbers of honey bees come to harvest propolis, the plant wax on the leaves, to make into their combs, but I can't think the butterflies have any use for this.


Below is a speckled wood, a shy visitor from the verges and hedgerows outside the garden, on a laurel leaf, and, below that, one of the same species that I took out walking to show it a little more clearly.





It's not a bad life, I have, when I can take the time to chase butterflies, and the camera is an improvement on a nylon kids' fishing net.


30 comments:

julie said...

These are fantastic, Lucy!

Rouchswalwe said...

A sight for sore eyes indeed since there don't seem to be many here this summer at all. And I miss them! The German word is a favorite of mine ~ der Schmetterling. It's that mix of high-tech antennae action together with their fuzziness makes me smile when I watch them.

jzr said...

Absolutely gorgeous photos and words to match!! Thanks!!

marja-leena said...

Wow, fantastic photos, and such a variety of beauties. Love the red peacock one the most. Sadly we don't have such variety here, but the cabbage one is very prolific to the detriment of the kale.

Ghost Dansing said...

that was fun..... woman with a blue butterfly

HLiza said...

I love the last one the most; but really all these pics are fantastic..if you make them into postcards, I'll buy them all! My kids are with me now..they marvel at these pics too and learn a little bit of why that last butterfly have 'fake eyes' on the wings. Once when we I took Entomology (study on insects) class for my degree course, we were asked to make our own preserved insect collection..I ended up having almost all butterflies..and that lowered my marks because we should have variety of classes..I love butterflies so much!

Granny J said...

Quite lovely, Lucy -- especially the peacock. Interesting, your brimstone is pale green and has markings to resemble a leaf. What I lked best -- your butterflies are different from ours on this side of the Atlantic.

Crafty Green Poet said...

what a wonderful selection of butterflies, all so beautifully photographed! It's been a good year fur butterflies here, I've seen more small coppers this year than for many years and a few commas which are only just starting to move into Scotland. A few Painted Ladies, not as many as I hoped when I heard about the huge invasion, but maybe that missed out Edinburgh,

Barrett Bonden said...

It's fair to say you get close up and personal with butterflies. And you know the names, possibly even the taxonomy. Ignorance in this field can be a great disappointment. I was vouchsafed a close-up of a small cerulean bf and reckoned it to be a first. Having looked it up I was disgusted to find it was a common blue.

Only a short step from bfs in the garden to the great lepidopterist's second-best novel, Pale Fire.

Bee said...

Lucy, this is spectacular! I've been noticing how many butterflies we have in the garden at the moment . . . but I don't know why they've suddenly appeared. We don't have nearly the variety you've captured here, though; nor have I been able to photograph them so beautifully.

I also like the way you've included a childhood reminiscence about catching butterflies. Summer used to always be made up of such things. I revel in having one child who notices and cares about what's going on in the natural world. (A bit of synchronicity: I wrote a post about the ephemeral nature of butterflies/flowers/children today . . . before I read this post, actually. I've linked to both of your butterfly posts. xx)

Coastcard said...

Really beautiful photos... and who could resist 'your' quotation at the beginning? A wonderful posting. I'm so grateful to Crafty Green Poet for sending me here.

Mouse said...

What a coincidence! I was standing in the garden gazing at my rug that had been washed and is now drying in the garden, when I spotted a butterfly resting on it and I wondered "What's that called, that there butterfly on my rug?" and now I know. It's a Painted Lady....
Thank you for that info

Anil P said...

What a delightful post this was. Butterflies are truly heart's imagination skipping about.

The butterflies in your corner of the world are very different from those in my corner, but are joned together in the effervescence of bright colours.

Like you rightly said they have fancy names that no oe else can boast about.

The first time I saw Plum Judy in the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary I remembered her for the name. What's in a name? Well, everything if you're a butterfly.

Margaret Gosden said...

A wonderful butterfly series - a collection so well photographed and left to live on as long as they do.

The Crow said...

Exquisite phots of exquisite creatures! I've never seen a peacock before, Lucy and yours if amazingly detailed. Its scales simmer and shine in the sunlight - so fantastically beautiful. Thank you for sharing these with the rest of us.

:)

Lucy said...

Thanks all, including the new visitors and who sent them! And if anyone's tracking this, don't miss the enigmatic Ghost Dansing's beautiful painting in the link.

The header quote actually went on to point out that becsue of the unimportance of butterflies, the words for them in different languages show a fascinating variety. 'Plum Judy' is terrific!

A Write Blog said...

Wow, beautiful. Particualarly the Peacock.

It is their otherworldly fragility that appeals to me.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Aren't they just amazing? I have a bed of lantana in the front garden and they flit around it all day. Like flying jewelry.

Moannie said...

These photographs are truly beautiful, you must have a terrific camera. I have tried capturing the myriad of butterflies that have swarmed over my Buddleia this year but they do not have the clarity of yours.

Love the name in French too: Papillon.

jinksy said...

I spent a long time yesterday just admiring the butterflies outside my patio doors, but even though I looked up a few on the internet, I couldn't be sure which variety they were- didn't keep still long enough to be certain! Your selection is wonderful.

Keith said...

As has been stated, you have some beautiful photography. The mimicry of butterflies is wonderful.

Shaista said...

I am so glad I found your blog and these butterfly posts. How extraordinary that you are able to capture them without capturing them. Thankyou so much for this journey - we only see the cabbage bfly in Cambridge - but it's enough for me!
I really enjoyed your Stone ghazal too - I had no idea ghazals were being written in English now :)

JamaGenie said...

So glad David included this in POTD at authorblog. Fabulaous photos! And such a variety! How you ever "captured" so many is amazing!

Lucy said...

Well, how remarkable, lots of lovely new people have rolled up to look at the butterflies! I didn't even know about Authorblog, good job someone mentioned it...

Thanks all of you, very gratifying.

My camera is a middle of the range bridge Canon Powershot S31S, 6 megapixels, a couple of years old now, and not suited to everything, but it does do butterflies and flowers quite well, as long as they stay still long enough!

gaelikaa said...

That is one lovely post!

Lee said...

What absolutely gorgeous pictures! And to think they all visit your garden! Thank you so much for sharing these!

Cheers,
Lee

Brian Miller said...

great pics. butterflies are that little dash of color that add so much to the picture but are often overlooked until they are not there. congrats on the POTD mention.

Cheffie-Mom said...

Beautiful! Congrats on the Post of the Day Award!

Lucy said...

Thanks again!

ellen abbott said...

I love the shots of the painted ladies. I was unfamiliar with the peacock and the comma. Thanks.