Wednesday, 18 December 2013

2013: A great year for butterflies and moths

What a great year for butterflies and moths we had. The hot and dry summer provided ideal conditions for most butterflies and helped many butterfly species which had suffered in the cool and wet year 2012 to bounce back. According to the Big Butterfly Count which recorded butterfly numbers submitted by members of the public between 20 July - 11 August, Small White, Large White and Peacock were the most common butterfly species seen this year. Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Brimstone had huge population increases compared to 2012 with Peacock numbers increased by over 3500% and Small Tortoiseshell numbers by over 380%. Other commonly seen butterflies were Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Green-veined White and Ringlet.

Small Tortoiseshell butterflies had a comeback this year

Garden butterflies seemed to do especially well and on average 17 butterflies were seen in gardens during the Big Butterfly Count 2013 (compared to just 5 butterflies seen on average in gardens in 2012). On my allotment the most abundant butterfly species this year have been Small and Large White, Small Tortoiseshell, Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown.

Small Tortoiseshells liked the Yellow Ox-eye on my allotment
Many Small Whites have frequented my allotment this year

Butterfly Bush attracted many butterflies this summer
Butterflies love flowers from the daisy family (Asteraceae), the teasel family (Dipsacaceae), the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) and the mint family (Lamiaceae) such as Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare), Willow-leaved Yellow Ox-eye (Buphtalmum salicifolium), Red Scabious (Knautia macedonica), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Viper`s Bugloss (Echium vulgare) and Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii). Look here for more ideas of what to plant for butterflies and other pollinators.

This Small Tortoiseshell collects nectar from a Red Scabious
Plant many different flowers to attract butterflies and moths

A pretty Elephant Hawk Moth
With all the excitement for our pretty butterflies we should not forget all the night-flying moth species which have also been abundant this year. Especially the Silver Y moth, a migratory moth species, populated our gardens in huge numbers this summer and you could see some of them even flying during the day. Adult moths like night-scented flowers such as Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis and others), ornamental Tobacco plants (Nicotiana spp.), Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum, L. japonica and others), Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and Night-scented Stock (Matthiola longipetala). So make sure you provide nectar plants for both butterflies and moths in your garden.

We rescued this Lime Hawk Moth from a garden pond this summer

Leave some nettles to grow in a sunny corner
But providing nectar plants for the adults is only half of the story; the larvae or caterpillars of butterflies and moths need food plants as well which are often completely different from the nectar plants the adults feed on. Think about leaving a patch of nettles in a sunny corner of your garden for Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Comma. You could also leave some grass in your garden to grow long to provide food for Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Skippers, Ringlet and Speckled Wood. Or plant some Cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis) and Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) for Orange Tip and Green-veined White. There are many more food plants for butterfly and moth caterpillars, some of them you will already have in your garden.

The Vapourer Moth caterpillar feeds on deciduous trees and shrubs
Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars like to eat nettles
Emperor Moth caterpillars feed on heather and bramble

Let`s hope 2014 will be another great year for butterflies and moths and make sure you take part in the Big Butterfly Count next summer.

Meadow Brown drinking nectar from Wild Marjoram flowers
Peacock butterflies were especially abundant this year
A Small Skipper on a Lavender flower
Many Small Tortoiseshell butterflies visited my allotment this year
Small Tortoiseshell on Willow-leaved Yellow Ox-eye flowers
A Holly Blue feasting on nectar from Strawberry flowers
Six-spot Burnet is a day-flying moth
Six-spot Burnet likes to visit Ragwort flowers
A Gatekeeper visits Ragwort flowers
Ragwort is a great plant for butterflies
A Small Heath on a Heath Spotted Orchid
A little Orange Tip clinging to a blade of grass
Garden butterflies had a great summer this year
A Brown Argus, looking the worse for wear after a busy summer
A female Common Blue
A Purple Hairstreak in our annual flower meadow in Prospect Park
A Meadow Brown resting on a Black Knapweed flower
A male Common Blue visits Purple Loosetrife flowers
We have also seen many Speckled Wood butterflies this summer
Black Knapweed is great for butterflies such as this Meadow Brown
A Green-veined White on a Virginia Stock flower
Speckled Wood caterpillars eat grass such as Cock`s Foot and False Brome
A Small Heath visits Small Scabious flowers
A Small Tortoiseshell
A Small Heath clinging to an Autumn Gentian
This White-letter Hairstreak was sitting on our fieldwork-car one morning

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