Recent warm and sunny conditions have resulted in a profusion of insect life. Probably most noticeable amongst these have been butterflies and various bees. One of the most striking butterflies to be seen at the moment is the fairly large lemon-yellow male Brimstone that will have over-wintered as an adult, perhaps hidden amongst some ivy. There are some who say the name butterfly originated from this species as the butter-coloured fly, though others dispute this attractive notion.
Last week in the north of the park we watched a male courting a virgin (though she will have emerged late last summer, they don’t mate until the following spring) female who is a very pale greenish-white and could be overlooked as just “another white”. As she shed scales with pheromones the male is enticed and the pair spiral upwards in an aerial courtship. Once mated the female will seek out one of the buckthorn species- Purging Buckthorn on chalk and Alder Buckthorn elsewhere. It’s worth planting one of these in your garden to attract this beautiful butterfly.
Another distinctive species is the male Orange Tip. As the label on the tin says, he has distinctive bright orange tips to the wings, but the female that emerges slightly later has black tips, so easier to overlook. This white is much smaller than the Brimstone and use a variety of crucifers to lay their eggs. At Perivale Park and the adjacent Brent the main food plant will be the Garlic Mustard with white flowers. Elsewhere it will use Cuckoo Flower and sometimes even Honesty in a garden. As the caterpillars can be can be cannibalistic the female usually lays just one egg on the flower buds, but sometimes another female will lay on the same plant!
One of the most striking butterflies around at the moment is the Peacock, so named because of the large eyes on the wing which when flashed can deter a would-be predator. The rest of the upper-wing is a rich chestnut with a blackish under-wing. Also flying are the related species, the Comma with jagged wings and named by a small silvery comma shape on the under-wing and the brightly coloured Small Tortoiseshell. These also use nettles but Commas will also lay on Hops and sometimes on elms or willows.
The remaining three species we’ve seen recently are the Holly Blue (the blue butterfly most often seen in gardens), Speckled Wood which loves dappled sunshine and common in wooded environments and the ubiquitous Small White (one of the so-called cabbage white species).