by Paul Cormacain
AS the weather remains mostly warm and dry, the sightings of butterflies is increasing daily. For my own part, I am now seeing butterflies every day, and they seem to be quite common.
But before butterflies, a new-to-me insect. I came across a strange-looking beetle sitting on a wall.
It was different from anything I had seen before, so I had to go and get a beetle book to try to identify the creature. He was un-obliging and sat in such a way that his salient features were invisible, well, hidden.
I left him for a time, but when some blue tits came along picking insects off walls nearby, it seemed to me that it was only a matter of time before they came across this succulent morsel. So I decided to save his life.
I caught him in a jam jar and was consequently able to study him in some detail and identify him.
It was a hawthorn shield bug, apparently a common species of insect in Ireland, Wales and England, but not in Scotland. I wonder why.
There are a number of shield bugs and what they have in common is their flat, broad bodies. These bodies are shaped like heraldic shields, in miniature, and this slightly far-fetched resemblance gives them the name.
The hawthorn shield bug feeds on hawthorn berries - what else?
The over-wintering adult, which is what I had, feeds on hawthorn leaves. To cut a long story short, I saved the life of this small creature, protecting him from the blue tits, by placing him on a hawthorn bush. When last seen, he was living happily there.
Butterflies seen were mostly whites of one variety or an other. There was the orange tip, which is a white butterfly.
The wing ends on the male are orange in colour, which gives it the name. Which tends to prove that the classification of 'whites' is somewhat arbitrary.
The male has orange tips, the female has black wing tips. Both have mottled green undersides. So if you se a butterfly that answers one of these descriptions, you will know you are looking at a 'white'.
The orange tip lives throughout Europe, as far north as central Scandinavia.
In Wales, England and Ireland it is common, but strangely enough it is absent from parts of northern Scotland. Its range extends east into the Middle East, into temperate parts of Asia, as far as Japan.
Looking at some of the older butterfly books and comparing them with up-to-date books, the range of the orange tip seems to be increasing. Well, that is at least one butterfly we do not have to worry about.
Another 'white' butterfly common at the moment is the green-veined white. It also appears to be in no bother, unlike other butterflies.
Its range extends from north Scotland and Ireland eastwards across Europe and north Africa to Asia , and into north America.
Veins under the wings are picked out in streaks of green-black scales, and this gives the green its appearance, and also the name.
It used to be thought that the green-veined was one of the desperados responsible for attacking our garden cabbage, but research now shows that it is blameless.
This delightful creature will feed around the garden, giving us pleasure by its appearance, but it does no harm. It only lays its eggs on wild plants, so it caterpillars only eats the wild plants, and leaves the cabbage alone.
Two other whites are about at this time, the small white and the large white. Both of these boyos eat cabbage. Well, the female lays the eggs on cabbage, and when the caterpillar stage is reached, these boyos eat the cabbage. In fact, they love cabbage as much as we do.