Butterflies in Summertime at the Reserve

In June three species of Fritillary butterflies emerge on the reserve from their chrysalis stages. They put on a show of bright orange as they settle with wings open to let the sun warm their bodies and convert solar power into energy for flight.

One of these, the High Brown Fritillary, is among the rarest of UK butterflies. Once common throughout Wales and much of England, the Morecambe Bay area is now its stronghold.

Reserve management is aimed at helping this species to survive. Bracken bashing and rotational scrub clearance help to regenerate flushes of violets on which Fritillary caterpillars feed in spring.

The Dark Green Fritillary is more common than the High Brown, but equally stunning in flight. Its upperwings are almost identical to those of the High Brown. To be certain of identification you need to see them with wings closed. The Dark Green underwings are greener, whilst the High Brown has a distinctive row of small red "eyes" with silver pupils under each hindwing.

The reserve's third Fritillary, the Small Pearl-bordered, has a smaller wingspan and a row of silver "pearls" on the underside of the hindwing. This is less common on the reserve and has declined elsewhere as fewer woods are coppiced. A fourth Fritillary the Pearl-bordered has not yet been added to the count, but may be present.

The rest of the summer species, in addition to some of those mentioned in the Springtime article, are Grayling, Small Heath, Meadow Brown, Common Blue, Small Skipper, Large Skipper, Painted Lady, Gatekeeper and Small Copper.

The patchwork of short and long natural grassland with rocky areas and the shelter of scrub help to maintain this remarkable range of species.

Flower-rich areas like the quarry bund provide the highest count when the thistles and Greater Bird's-foot-trefoil are in flower.

The Grayling prefers the arid parts of the reserve where fine grasses grow sparsely among rock and bare earth. It is a master of camouflage as it settles, tucking in its forewings to hide conspicuous eyespots, and sits sideways to absorb the sun's rays.

Reg Hesketh, May 7th, 2010


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