25. Butterflies: Two New Species in the Poor Year 2008.
This is the old Lapal canal, near Mucklow Hill. Its history can easily be researched on-line
if you wish. Essentially, it was a kind of ‘by-pass’ to enable narrow boats coming
from the north-west of England to get around south-west Birmingham without
having to go through much of the Black Country and the centre of Birmingham
itself. From Selly Oak they could then proceed down
to the River Severn. Virtually none of it is in use today, though much
preservation & restoration work has been done, and there is an active Trust
whose goal it is to see it fully restored. This shot was taken in December
2007. Like most of our canals (even those as yet un-restored), it is a valuable
asset to the public for recreational purposes, and equally so to the local
flora and fauna. At the end of July 2008, some friends and I took a walk, which
led us here. We walked half a mile or so from my house to the
Here is Inachis io
– the Peacock butterfly – taking advantage of bright spring weather to sally
forth and drink… mud?? Well: certain things very beneficial are to be found in
mud! For a start, water: and all normal forms of life need water, don’t they?
Besides that, there are various mineral ‘salts’ to be found there too: those of
sodium and potassium come readily to mind. These elements are essential to
life. Also, compounds of nitrogen are to be found there too, and some of those
are also essential, as are other trace elements of which we may not know the exact
purpose, as yet. So our Peacock is by no means engaging in any sordid behaviour, imbibing from a ‘dirty’ place where many feet
have trod. (This shot was indeed taken in the middle of a wide and well-trodden
muddy path). Often, dozens of butterflies may be found drinking in this sort of
place even in England; but the accounts of those who have studied tropical
butterflies in situ speak of scores,
hundreds even, and of many species together, all to be seen drinking avidly at
such places. Fortunately, when they are so engaged, they are very much ‘absorbed
in absorbing’ as it were: and are therefore easier to
approach. So my muddy elbows were a small price to pay for this shot. Returning
to July, we added our first skipper butterfly to the photographic ‘bag’. It was
also taken in
Unfortunately, the image is blurred, but is included here because
it is a ‘first’ for us, a shot of Ochlodes faunus, the Large Skipper. A
female of the species, I believe. The skipper butterflies are often referred to
as ‘moth-like’ butterflies – which they are. I don’t properly understand the
technicalities, but it is quite clear that this insect definitely looks a bit
like a moth, OK? But it is a butterfly, nonetheless. There is more than one
species of skipper recorded in the
This one is a female – the forewings have no dark central band of scent scales extending into the fore-wing wing from the rear of it. Only the males have these. (I apologise to any skilled entomologist who may read these lines; I know there are very precise terms such as sub-costal margin, anterior whatsit, anal angle & so on, but have never been able to learn them! Besides, if I did, I would probably often mis-use them, and hence unwittingly appear as a ‘pseudo-scientist’ instead of merely an enthusiastic amateur, which is all I claim to be. But that reminds me, about the old-time way of calling the eggs of Lepidoptera ‘ova’. I know that dear old P.B.M. Allan wrote quite scathingly – and a long time ago! – about people trying to be ‘too scientific’ and so calling an egg an ‘ovum’. He said that at breakfast, he did not eat a ‘boiled ovum’ with his toast; nor did he decapitate it with an ‘ovum-spoon’! So why should a moth or butterfly lay an ‘ovum’ instead of an egg, as in the normal way? Besides, I cannot tell you of the delight I have derived over the last 30-odd years, in reading and re-reading Allan’s four books. I bought the last one (published after his death) as soon as it appeared, and would not be without any of them for worlds. Happily, Allan’s policy seems to have prevailed; and as far as I know, all self-respecting Lepidoptera now lay only eggs – there is nary an ovum to be seen these days! And in saying so, I pay humble tribute to his literary style. That manner of writing may seem a little cumbersome by today’s standards – but if any of you have read much of the stuff on this ramshackle website, you now know one of the main sources of my prose style… 8^) Anyway, what else did we see? Er… oh yes! The ubiquitous Maniola jurtina, the Meadow Brown.
The Meadow Brown. Here we have probably the most common, or rather abundant, butterfly still left to us. We have a photo. of a definite female on another page. Females generally have a fair bit of orange on their fore-wings. And males have very little. So: has this individual very little orange on its fore-wing? It would seem so. In short, is it a male or a female? When we consult Adrian Riley’s most excellent ‘British and Irish Butterflies’ [Brambleby Books, Luton 2007], we find that the position is not as yet completely clarified. Riley tells us that there are nominally four subspecies of this butterfly present in the British Isles, but that – apart from the Irish Meadow Brown – there is still some uncertainty as to the subspecific status of the other three, viz., the Isles of Scilly Meadow Brown, the Hebridean Meadow Brown, and the British Meadow Brown. Riley’s illustration of the British Meadow Brown (from Northamptonshire) has practically no orange other than a minor border round the eye-spot. This individual possesses that border – plus other, albeit small, orange markings. However, the typical female has much more extensive orange markings, and above all, these extend around & encompass the eye-spots. So, thanks to Riley, we can legitimately conclude that this specimen is a male.
Near the conclusion of our walk along the Lapal
canal, near to Mucklow Hill – which should really be
called just Mucklow, i.e. muddy or dirty hill, ‘Hill’
having been added helpfully (if redundantly) by later settlers who did not know
or care that ‘low’ already meant ‘hill’ – we found Pieris napi, the Green-veined White on bramble.
This butterfly is not easily to be identified, at least by me, on the wing: it
might be Pieris rapae, the
Small White; or even a small specimen of Pieris brassicae, the Large White. Indeed, what
I took to be a Small White scouted out a clump of Nasturtium in my garden in
late August 2008, and eventually began to lay ova…, sorry, eggs, on it. But it laid
many (20 or 30) eggs in a cluster, which meant it was actually a Large White.
The Small White lays eggs in ‘ones and twos’, here and there, or so I
understand. Only the Large White lays a large cluster. Therefore, the butterfly
laying on my Nasturtium was a Large White, only it was
quite a small one – and who can blame it, after our atrocious summer of 2008?
But the butterfly you see above, can be definitely
identified as the Green-veined White, because its underside can be clearly
seen. As to its sex, I’m not certain, but think it’s a female, as a double spot
is visible on its forewing, the male having only one. Riley (op cit) tells us that our British
Green-veined white has been recognised as a subspecies
distinct from the European form since 1916, though it was first described in
1827 by Stephens, whose name it now bears. Other subspecies exist in
Page written 19th January 2009.