The chocolate butterfly

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What’s not to love about a butterfly whose colour is described as chocolate … except that you can’t eat it.

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Its rich brown colour enables the Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) to warm itself more quickly than light-coloured butterflies, which means it can be seen bobbing its way through the long grass even on overcast days.

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The Ringlet is named for the marks on its underwings, the circles of white, black and caramel, which can vary considerably in size and shape.

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Leafmines: Liriomyza eupatorii

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This week’s leafminers are little artists, beginning their feeding going round and round in half a dozen spirals before heading off along the leaf in a long meandering gallery mine. These miniature artworks have been created by the larvae of the tiny fly Liriomyza eupatorii and, though I found these on Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum), the British Leafminers website lists several other possible host plants, including Goldenrod and Common hemp-nettle. With two broods each year, during spring and summer, there’s still plenty of time to spot these little miners in action.

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Oxeyes and friends

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These photos were taken over 3 days, as I meandered around the local fields and meadows. The ‘friends’ are a wide variety of creatures that all pollinate Oxeye daisies just by flitting/hopping/flying from one to the other, including ladybirds and their larvae; an as-yet-unidentified mirid bug; at least two spider species, including crab spiders using their colour to camouflage their presence; a wide variety of flies; crickets young and old; solitary bees; good numbers of Swollen-thighed beetles, male and female; and a very confiding Meadow grasshopper – they usually hop off when I approach. And these are just the insect species I managed to photograph – I know there are more I missed.

Picture-winged flies on Burdock

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There are two picture-winged flies that live exclusively on Burdock, using the plant for their larvae to munch on. The Banded burdock fly (Terellia tussilaginis) is one (see my blog Burdock beasties, August 2020) and today’s featured fly is the other. This is Tephritis bardanae, a tiny fruit fly that can be found flapping its speckled wings on Burdock any time from spring through to autumn. Apparently, the larvae make a gall, so I’m going to revisit this particular plant to check for those.

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Commas, again

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I saw my first Comma butterfly on 18 March and continued to spot them quite regularly until the end of April, by which time they were looking increasingly tatty. Although the adults then died off, the next generation was underway, and I saw my first ever Comma caterpillars on two consecutive days in mid May. Now, the pristine adults have begun to appear, floating along the hedgerows and woodland rides, trying very hard to convince me they’re really Silver-washed fritillaries. Their vibrant orange-and-black patterning is a joy to behold.

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The Bees are buzzing

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Yesterday I went for a meander to check how the orchids were doing this year on the Cardiff side of the River Ely. You might remember in early June last year I blogged about the Fiesta of Bee orchids happening along the verges of Ferry Road near Cardiff Bay. I hoped I hadn’t left it too late for this year’s display; the verges are a little more overgrown, the grasses taller, but the Bee orchids are flowering again in their hundreds and look just as amazing.

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Black-tailed skimmer

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Though the British Dragonfly Society website says this species ‘favours lakes, slow rivers, ponds and occasionally marshy area[s], that have open water and bare patches along the shore’, I usually find Black-tailed skimmers (Orthetrum cancellatum) locally in wildflower fields and along woodland rides, not always with water or damp habitat nearby.

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Perhaps it’s their flexibility in preferred habitat that has enabled this dragonfly to spread so widely – the BDS website again: ‘Quite common in south-east Britain. This species has spread significantly in both England and Wales since the late 1980s.’ Although I saw my first Black-tailed skimmer of the year over three weeks ago, on 2 June, this particular skimmer is the first I’ve managed to get close enough to for reasonable photographs.

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Skippers, small but few

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First spotted locally on 15 June, Small skippers are now appearing in greater quantities though, from my observations, both Large and Small skipper numbers are well down on recent years. This may well be climate related but it’s also environmental. In two of the local areas I have previously seen skippers in abundance, humans have been tinkering. In one case, the edges of a field were cut back much more than in previous years, with grassy edges cut to the dirt and the scrub- and bramble-edged hedgerows heavily flailed. And in the other location, an old meadow, the long grasses were cut but the trimmings left to rot, a community orchard was planted where wildflowers and waxcap fungi previously thrived and, once again, the bramble-and-scrub edges have recently been decimated, despite this being bird-nesting season The good news is that I’ve found another good skipper field though, unfortunately, it has been earmarked for a housing development by the Welsh government (though locals are fighting to preserve their green fields). I fear for our butterflies, such vulnerable little creatures in an increasingly hostile world.

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Thousands of Pyramidal orchids

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I learned, earlier this week, that the rangers and volunteers at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park do an annual count of the orchids growing in the east paddock. On Friday 17 June, they counted an amazing 4828 Pyramidal orchids (as well as 5254 Common-spotted and 155 Bee orchids). These are just a few of those splendorous Pyramidals.

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