Fond summer memories of butterflies and moths

Red Admiral feeding on perennial wallflower

Remember summer? It seems that it’s been and gone too fast!

We were reminded of some our summer antics when we heard that this year’s Big Butterfly Count results were released this week. It looks like Red Admirals are doing remarkably well this year. We’ve certainly seen our share around the Tayport Community Garden in the late summer and early autumn, alongside some lovely Peacocks. The sunny Tuesday last week brought them out in force and they were happily tucking into nectar of the purple perennial wallflower in the sensory border (Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’).

Along this boost to this large,  colourful species, apparently there was a pronounced drop in the Whites. This was perhaps the case across the country, but as Peter would testify, our Brassicas have been supporting a rather healthy local population of Small and Large Cabbage Whites. We have also seen a lot of Green Veined Whites over the Garden fence so the curling pond area must provide their caterpillars with plentiful supply of wild mustard to munch on.

We have spotted more exotic visitors recently too – a couple of Small Coppers made an appearance at the Pond lane, and Frank found a lovely Dark-Green Fritillary in his own garden (thanks to Anthony McCluskey from Urban Butterfly Project for help with identification of this one). And Bill reported seeing lots of fluttery Common Blues on the Tentsmuir sand dunes.

You can read about Big Butterfly Count results and reasons for change in species abundance on Butterfly Conservation blog here. And if you’d like to keep watching butterflies into the autumn, and even into winter, you can sign up for Butterfly Conservation’s Garden Butterfly project here.

You may remember that we had a go Butterfly Count at the Garden but because of the miserable weather we had to make do with a moth safari instead. Duncan Davidson from Butterfly Conservation set up his moth traps at the Garden overnight and gave a guided tour of their contents during our Big Butterfly Count workshop the next day. Don’t worry – no moths were harmed in the process.. It was very exciting to how many different types of these critters lived in our Garden, right under our noses! You can download the full moth species list here (PDF).

Even more excitement came after the event…here is the email we received from Duncan a couple of weeks later (don’t scroll past the end of the text if you are of a squeamish disposition):

Remember the caterpillar that you found on the underside of the cabbage leaf? It had already spun a silk enclosure and it was getting ready to pupate.

Well… we think it was a Silver Y moth caterpillar, but it had been parasitized.

A couple of days after I took it away, it was looking a bit unhealthy, so I cut away the silk to get a closer look. The result is like something from Alien (if you have seen the film, I’m thinking of a scene with John Hurt […])

This weekend, the parasites – or more correctly, the parasitoids – emerged. A little research suggests that they are Voria ruralis, one of 270 or so UK tachinids that mostly use Lepidoptera larvae as hosts. Some are not very fussy and others will inhabit only chosen species. The Voria ruralis is one of the latter and prefers Silver Y and its very close relatives.

Now we really feel like we’ve been on a bit of a safari!

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