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Butterflies travel the world to visit Northern Ireland

by Paul Cormacain

WITH the weather somewhat variable, the butterflies do not appear to be as plentiful as they were a week or so ago.

Most days I see the occasional speckled wood, and that only happens when we get some sunshine for a time. A large white was investigating the nasturtiums in the front garden today, and I do not doubt that in the fullness of time there will be large white larvae feasting on the flowers.

The green hairstreak is a reasonably common butterfly. It is found in large numbers in the south of England, and the population is about similarly dense in Wales. Further north and west the numbers fall off, which means that it is not as common in Ireland and Scotland. Moving further east, the range of this insect stretches into the distant east throughout Europe, and parts of north Africa. Then its range extends further east into Asia, and eventually distant Siberia.

According to butterfly reports a couple of these butterflies turned up in County Down last month. Then more of these flying beauties turned up near Oxford Island.

At the beginning of this month more green hairstreaks turned up near south Lough Neagh.

The male of the species is usually seen more frequently than the female. Two of the larval food plants are birds' foot trefoil, and broom. The male may be encountered nearby, waiting for a lady hairstreak to come along. The males can become attached to a particular spot, and sometimes more than one male has an identical favourite spot. So they fight. Did you ever see butterflies fighting? Well, the experts do say that there are cases of the butterfly actually attacking a human. I just do not know how they do it!

On chalk grassland, females fly low over the ground and they can be seen crawling over Common Rock rose plants searching for young growth on which to lay their eggs. The larvae are out and about now, and in a month's time will go into the pupal state. Come next April or May, these pupae will transform into the beautiful green hairstreak again, ready to attack more humans!

An apparently popular and common butterfly this year is the painted lady. This insect lives in North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia, and its numbers irrupt each spring. It breeds continuously in it warm range, does not hibernate. The creatures can visit us at any time, but peak migration usually occurs in June. If the weather is suitable, the painted lady can breed here, producing yet more painted ladies.

Ian Rippey has been collating sightings, and he tells me that some turned up in Roscommon earlier this month. Then they were sighted at Wexford, and other fast fliers landed in Ballyclare, and also on Rathlin Island. A crowd of them was sighted in Sliabh Gullion Forest Park, in south Armagh. More were seen in Fermanagh, and yet more in north Armagh, and County Down.

It is just amazing how all these butterflies travel from Africa to see us here. More turned up at Ballynahinch, at Drumadarragh, Ballinasloe and the Shannon Callows. Brookeborough hosted some painted ladies. More were seen in Newcastle, Loughgall and Strangford.
Again, I would ask you to report any sightings of butterflies or moths to the Butterfly Conservation.

Coming Events

Saturday July 3 - Wildflower Event on Oxford Island, 1000, sounds great, contact them on 028 3832 2205.

Sunday July 4 - At midday, Crawfordsburn Country Park, explore the flowers and butterflies in the meadow, contact 028 9185 3621. Mammal Weekend at Peatlands Park, at 1300, phone the Environment folk on 028 3885 1102

Saturday July 24 - Butterfly Outing to the Umbra, Castlerock, 1100, with Bob Leslie, more information from Butterfly Conservation on 028 9079 6979. Open Day }- at Portmor Lough, more from RSPB on 028 90491547.

Ulster Star