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Brimstone moth is familiar sight around these shores

by Paul Cormacain

SO what turned up today but a brimstone moth. Nothing unusual in that, you say, for it is a common enough moth in many places. As well as Europe, the brimstone is common on western and central Asia, and can be found in north Africa.

There are two generations for the brimstone each year, and this helps to keep the numbers up. It is more frequently associated with lights, in the way that many moths are attracted to lights at night. Later on in the year this moth becomes more common. The young feed mainly on caterpillars.

As well as the brimstone moth, there is the brimstone butterfly. It is very common in England, only a few live north of the border in Scotland, and not many more in Wales. There have been some reports from around Belfast, one sighting on the north coast, and a few in the midlands. Last month in Sardegna there were very many brimstone butterflies.

Interestingly enough, the very word 'butterfly' in the English language seems to have derived from the brimstone. The male brimstone has Sulphur-yellow uppersides of the wings, making it very easy to identify. This yellow colouring looks like butter, and hence the name butterfly.

The weather was not much of an attraction for it. Lets face it, the weather is not much of an attraction for any of us, human or moth, and there certainly have been no huge numbers of butterflies about. The moths are lying low, tile butterflies are lying low, and now we hear that tile poor bees are lying low. Indeed, if we do not feed our domestic bees, many of them would die off.

A few bees have been seen as well as a few moths, but apart from the brimstone moth,. I could not make a positive identification.

Then a large white butterfly turned up. During the bad weather there have been a few butterflies about, bedraggled, wet, and not too well, and difficult to identify. This large white was seen close-up, and he was in good condition and easy to identify.

This butterfly is also called the cabbage white, and with good cause. Long time ago before the 1940s, cabbage fields would frequently be covered by a mass of large white butterflies. Large whites are unpopular with farmers, especially cabbage farmers. The insects.were a major plague, destroying vast numbers of cabbages, and also went for Brussels sprouts, and oil seed rape.

We grow many nasturtiums in our garden and I must say the large white has a serious weakness for these flowers. It lays its eggs on the leaves, and the young caterpillars make a good job of eating as many of these leaves as possible.

Large white butterflies are not too popular with certain gardeners.

The increasing use of pesticides from the 1940s onwards, has meant that the large white is now less of a nuisance to farmers.

Numbers decreased, as indeed did the numbers of many other butterflies. Then the large white was hit in 1955 by a butterfly virus, decreasing numbers still further.

I have referred to the large white as the cabbage butterfly, but tile small white gets lumped in under this name as well. The small white also likes nasturtiums. When the large white eggs hatch, the caterpillars are obvious to the eye, as they eat their way through cabbage leaves or nasturtium leaves. The small white has different habits, and it will eat at the heart of the cabbage, unseen by human eyes until the damage is done.

Have you seen many butterflies or moths this year? If so, you might like to make a note of location, time, date, numbers, and other relevant information. The Butterfly Conservation people would love to hear details from you.

Ulster Star