What's on the wing...
(Above) Meadow Brown Butterfly © Nigel Brooks (Below) Meadow Brown © Nigel Brooks (Below) Marbled White © Nigel Brooks
All the warm weather recently has seen Powerstock Common and the surrounding meadows at Kingcombe teeming with butterflies, so much so that you can’t walk through the fields without stirring some up from the long grass.
Meadow brown butterflies (Maniola jurtina), probably the commonest butterfly of the British countryside, are out in vast numbers this year although you might also be able to spot the slightly smaller and more orange gatekeepers, the darker ringlets, the tiny skippers, the distinctive marbled whites, the shiny small tortoiseshells, the big red admirals and quite a few others if you’re lucky.
Many people ask about what the ‘dustiness’ is on butterfly and moth wings; these are scales formed from modified hairs that strengthen and stabilise the wing membrane. The membrane itself is actually transparent and made up of thin layers of chitin. It’s the scales that reflect different coloured light making butterflies so bright and attractive. These colours help butterflies to attract a mate, to camouflage themselves against their environment or to warn off predators.
Dark coloured scales help a butterfly reach flying temperature (about 13°C) on colder days by absorbing more heat from the sun. Butterflies lose scales throughout their lifetime which they do not replace; older butterflies may have transparent patches on their wings which their scales once covered.
If you are interested in Butterflies both on our reserves and back home, there are a couple of ways you can get involved. Volunteer for walking regular butterfly survey routes here or even get involved with Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count taking place from 19th July 10th August.
For more information about the Big Butterfly Count, click here.