by Paul Cormacain
STILL no great profusion of butterflies this year, indeed no great profusion of bees either.
This partly accounts for my grumpy mood, for we dedicated a large area in the garden to strawberries this year, intending to start a small strawberry jam factory. The strawberries hardly got pollinated, because of the aforementioned scarcity of insects, and whatever berries were produced were attacked by ants, spiders, wood lice, birds and beetles.
In the last week however we saw a small tortoiseshell butterfly. We also saw two ringlets, in two very different locations.
A common blue also turned up. This makes for a grand total of four butterflies in one week, not to mention the ones seen at a distance or just seen briefly, and unable to identify. Must be the weather!
There is a large tortoiseshell butterfly, but it's not seen here. Central and Southern Europe are its usual haunts, although I can only remember seeing it in Italia.
It may also be seen further afield, in North Africa and into Asia. Most recent records include England, with a few sightings in Wales, but it is believed that these insects were released, or escapees. Some may have migrated from the mainland.
The small tortoiseshell is reddish-orange with black hind margins and blue spots on all the wings. On the fronts of the fore wings are three black spots separated by yellow spots. They are usually very common, but even more common in England than here.
I get many reports of moth and butterfly sightings, with especially Ian Rippey keeping me supplied with information. His first report of a small tortoiseshell was on June 9th near Strangford. His last report of a small tortoiseshell was also June 9 near Strangford.
This leads me to believe that either a) there are so many of these butterflies that they are not worth reporting, or b) there are very few of these butterflies about.
Ringlets are common throughout Ireland, even more common in most of England and Wales. When newly emerged the ringlet has a velvety appearance and is almost black with a white fringe to the wings.
There are a varied number of small circles on the underwings, variable in numbers and colours.
Adult ringlets fly with a characteristic bobbing flight, and will fly in dull cloudy conditions when most other butterflies are inactive. I wonder would they do any good in pollinating our strawberries.
Ian tells me that an English visitor was the first person to see a ringlet locally. Then he tells me of 'several' seen, and '100+' seen, and 'several dozen' seen, so the ringlets must be out in force. That might explain why we saw twice as many ringlets as small tortoiseshells. The only other butterfly we saw last week was the common blue, but not so common, as we saw only one. Ian and his friends, however, saw this blue very often in many different places.
The blue is aburidant and widely distributed, especially in coastal regions. In the north and northwest it is singlebrooded, and the flight period would extend from June to mid-August.
The food plant is bird's foot trefoil, and at least I have seen many, many of these flowers.
The common blue, usually common, is the most widespread blue butterfly in Ireland and Britain and is found in a variety of grassy habitats.
The brightly-coloured males are conspicuous, the females less so and more secretive. Scottish, Irish and English female common blues may all differ slightly in colour, so it is a good job that we can easily identify the male common blue.
After the butterflies we went into a supermarket and found some strawberries that were on the turn. We did not need any insects to fertilise them! We bought in bulk very cheaply, made our jam, and are now passing it off as jam from our own garden. But that is a secret.
Every Saturday and Sunday in July and August - Guided tours around Castle Espie, at 2.30, phone them on 9187 4146.
Until Wednesday 31 July - Animal, Bird, Creepy crawlies, a good old ABC trail at Castle Espie for children of all ages, contact 91874146.