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Butterfly Watch: The Wall Butterfly


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I’ve been on holiday for the last few days, so haven’t had much time to read papers about bacteria. What I have been doing, however, is looking at butterflies. Since my sudden and unexpected discovery that I was obsessed with them I have since bought a butterfly field guide and now try to identify them whenever I see them. Which hasn’t been very often this summer, as the huge amounts of rain haven’t been good for butterflies.

One of the ones I was most proud of spotting over the weekend, was the Wall butterfly, Lasiommata megera, which is getting rather rare in England. Along the south coast of Dorset I saw a good three of them, as well as large numbers of Gatekeepers, which were everywhere.

A male wall butterfly, photo by Jörg Hempel via wikimedia commons. Credit link below.

I found that the most recognisable feature about these butterflies was the large dark band across the top wing. My first thought was that it was a fritillary, because I’ve never seen a fritillary before, but no fritillaries have the round circular spots. This butterfly has a pattern that seems halfway between a fritillary and a gatekeeper, making it recognisable as a wall butterfly.

Those dark bands aren’t just for show. Only the males have them (the females just have lighter bands, I don’t think I saw any females) and they are scent bands, used to attract mates. It’s fairly easy to see as all the wall butterflies I saw seemed determined to pose on the gravel path, wings outstretched. Unlike the white butterflies (which just do not keep still) these ones were happy to sit with their wings open while I thumbed desperately through my field guide to work out what they were, getting distracted by pictures of fritillaries.

A silver washed fritillary. All fritillaries have a similar sort of pattern but they do not have the dark black bands or the eye-spots of the wall butterfly. Photo by Zeynel Cebeci via wikimeida commons, credit link below.

Despite the ones I saw on the south coast, the wall butterfly is still rare in Britain. It’s found most easily around the coast of England and Wales and a few spots in Ireland. The butterfly is found most often around May and June, with a slight dip in numbers in July and then again around August-October time. Eggs are laid over the winter. The butterfly prefers hot and sunny conditions, so it was lucky there was a heat-wave this weekend!

I also saw a peacock butterfly, a speckled wood and a marbled white, all of which were beautiful but slightly less rare. There were also several whites of some variety, but they wouldn’t stop moving long enough for me to identify exactly which kind of whites they were. I was really hoping to see some blues along the coast, but a lot of them are even rarer and a lot harder to distinguish.

Your regularly scheduled bacteria will return next week.

Credit link for image 1

Credit link for image 2

S.E. Gould About the Author: A biochemist with a love of microbiology, the Lab Rat enjoys exploring, reading about and writing about bacteria. Having finally managed to tear herself away from university, she now works for a small company in Cambridge where she turns data into manageable words and awesome graphs. Follow on Twitter @labratting.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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