Weaving their way amongst the long grasses, fluttering delicately up and down, meandering through the meadows – the Meadow browns are out and about.
The latest butterfly species to grace the fields in my area is the Meadow brown (Maniola jurtina). I actually saw my first on Monday but it’s taken a few days to get even half decent photos as all the butterflies I’ve seen have either been flying frantically from place to place and/or hunkering down in the vegetation so effectively that they’ve been almost impossible to see.
In his fabulous publication Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies, Peter Eeles notes that, due to their colour differences, the male and female Meadow browns were once thought to be two separate species, the male named the ‘Brown Meadow Ey’d Butterfly’ and the female the ‘Golden Meadow Ey’d Butterfly’. In the photo below, the male is on the left, the female on the right.
Apparently, there are also colour variations in different parts of Britain, and scientists have officially identified these as four separate subspecies. The ones I see here in south Wales are Maniola jurtina insularis, which is the most widespread. Personally, I often have trouble simply telling male from female, and that’s something I’m going to try to improve during the next few months.
I saw my first Meadow brown (Maniola jurtina) and Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) butterflies of the year at Cosmeston last week. And now there seem to be hundreds of Meadow Browns everywhere, though not so many Ringlets. Such pretty little things.
The two butterflies I see most often at the moment are fifty shades of brown and, when flying, very difficult to tell apart. Both enjoy the sheltered areas of tall grass and wildflowers in the conservation areas of Cathays Cemetery and, on a sunny day, I might see a combined total of perhaps thirty. Both are difficult to photograph as they rarely keep still long enough for me to reach them, let alone get focused shots, and they often settle down low in areas of long grass so, even at my most stealthy, I can seldom step through the greenery without disturbing them.
The Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) is not a Shirley Temple lookalike – its common name comes from the series of little ring markings on its hind wings. One of the advantages of being brown is that it is more easily able to warm itself up so can still be seen flying on overcast days. Common throughout Britain (except for the northernmost parts of Scotland), it tends to live in colonies, sometimes numbering up to several thousand individuals – what a sight that would be!
As its name suggests, the Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) is brown and lives in meadows, and it’s one of the most common, widespread and least endangered of British butterflies. There are, in fact, four separate sub-species, differentiated by location and extremely subtle variations in markings but I’m not going to venture in to that level of specialisation (there’s a wealth of information on the UK Butterflies website if you’re tempted).