The observant among you may have noticed silvery looking lines on the veins of the Silver-washed fritillary in yesterday’s post – those are its sex brands. In these particular frits, the males have four such brands, two on each top upper wing. The brands contain androconial scales, special scented scales that are used during courtship to attract females. As the Woodland Trust website explains, Silver-washed fritillary ‘courtship is an aerobatic spectacular: the female flies in a straight line while the male loops the loop around her, before showering her in a confetti of scent scales’.
Silver-washed fritillaries are not the only butterflies to have sex brands: they can also be found, for example, in Large and Small skippers (below left and right, respectively). The Learn about Butterflies website (which has a much more detailed explanation for those who are interested in the nitty gritty of butterfly anatomy) explains, the dark diagonal marks on the skippers’ wings
are composed of hundreds of androconial scales. These disseminate pheromones that can be detected by females during courtship. As the male ages the strength of his pheromones diminishes, thus by analysing the strength of the pheromones a female can assess the age and virility of a potential mate.
The more I find out about butterflies, the more fascinated I become.
On Wednesday I made my second visit to Aberbargoed Grasslands National Nature Reserve with my friend Sharon. Last time we dipped on seeing the Marsh fritillaries because it was too overcast; this time, we dipped again because the recent spell of hot dry weather has meant their season has finished for the year. Still, we have now walked most of the paths around the reserve so we’ll know exactly where to look next year. And, though we missed out the fritillaries, there were still plenty of other butterflies and moths to charm and delight us.
#30DaysWild, 30 Days Wild, British butterflies, British moths, butterflies, Common blue, Large skipper, Meadow Brown, moths, Pyrausta purpuralis, Ringlet, Six-spot burnet, Small skipper, Small white, Speckled wood
Day 25 of #30DaysWild was hot – the hottest day of the year so far in Wales! I’m not a huge fan of the heat or the burning sun – one of the reasons I moved to Britain was to escape them, but the climate is a’changing. The only good thing about sunshine is that it brings out the Lepidoptera, the butterflies and moths, though even they looked a bit frantic, as if the heat was making them crazy. Still, on my Penarth – Lavernock – Cosmeston – Penarth circuit, I did manage to see my first Small skipper for the year and a host of other fantastic Leps as well.
It’s Monday. I’ve had a meeting about a forthcoming fungi presentation, followed by a busy morning on the computer and feel I need a blast of fresh air so decide to do one of my local walk circuits, taking in one side of Cardiff Bay and Penarth Marina. And I’m so glad I do ’cause the air is alive with butterflies and moths. They are common enough species but I am amazed and delighted to see such a variety and so many in just a 2-hour walk.
There are Comma (Polygonia c-album), Common blue (Polyommatus icarus), Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus), Large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus), Meadow brown (Maniola jurtina), Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus), Six-spot burnet (Zygaena filipendulae), Small skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris), Small white (Pieris rapae), and Speckled wood (Pararge aegeri). This is my idea of heaven!
A couple of weeks ago I posted about several recent butterfly sightings, including one of the Large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus). Today we have my first 2016 sighting of a Small skipper (a completely separate species, Thymelicus sylvestris), which I was lucky enough to see and photograph at the cemetery last Sunday. It’s often difficult to tell the Large (below, left) and Small (below, right) apart when they’re flying but, in these photos, you can clearly see the differences in the markings on their upper wings. The colours of both skippers remind me of golden amber, especially when the sunshine touches them.
Apparently, the Small skipper’s eggs usually hatch in late summer, after which the wee caterpillars overwinter within the grass stalk where their eggs were originally laid. Come spring, they spin themselves a little grass shelter that helps protect them from predators, initially only popping out at night to feed but emerging more often during the day as they grow larger. They pupate in May and June, before appearing, often in large numbers, as beautiful butterflies in July. My Small skipper was true to form, basking on grass in the warm sunshine, allowing me to get lots of lovely photos.