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 Woodgate Valley Country Park, and then right along the length of it, two miles or so. Actually, since I moved here a year or so ago, I have been there several times, and in May 2008 took this shot:

 

 

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 Woodgate Valley.

 

 

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 Woodgate Valley Park, so work must continue in 2009…  Eventually, ‘we three companions’ got to our primary goal, ‘The Black Horse’ pub. on the Halesowen by-pass, where we partook of a light lunch, not without liquid refreshment. I should also point out that, as in most of the so-called summer of 2008, the weather this day was very dull and cool. It brightened however, as we set out from The Black Horse (which was itself a canal-side pub. on the Lapal canal before the latter was filled in years ago…) After following the course of the canal through modern housing, we came to more open country, and found abundance of Pyronia tithonus, the Gatekeeper butterfly. These should have been boring, as the Gatekeeper (or Hedge Brown as it used to be called) was the first butterfly I photographed. But these beautiful creatures exert a never failing fascination on us; so no apology is made for including this next shot.

 

 

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 Ireland and Scotland. Their hind-wing markings appear, from Riley’s photographs, to be altogether bolder and more extensive than our subspecies. Who would have thought that so much fascination with thinking about the ways of Dame Nature could have resulted from merely taking a three- or four- mile walk on a dullish day at the end of July, and carrying along a camera? Of course, it worked up quite a thirst, but I knew that there was a small, as-yet unspoiled Black Country pub. within a few hundred yards of our emergence onto Mucklow – ‘The Forge’ it’s called, so we went in there for a couple of pints, then caught the ’bus that runs up Mucklow, which took us back near home.

 

 

Page written 19th January 2009.