HOW many butterflies and moths have you seen in your garden this summer?
With varying reports of Lepidoptera species declining, for reasons often unclear even to the best of our entomologists and ecologists, it is a true delight when you observe some of the more spectacular and brightly coloured butterflies and moths in your own garden.
With the help of my four-year-old granddaughter, Libby, I have spotted several interesting ones over the last few months and the number and range seems to be increasing as every week goes around.
Of course, you might be asking why these beautiful flying insects have anything to do with gardening and you would be right to ask that question. However, my response would be that anything that chooses to visit my garden, however short that visit might be, is doing so for a reason.
I want to know what that reason is and so the first point of call is to identify the creature and then to find out why it has chosen to make a call into my few square metres of Britain.
What does it feed on? Does it need one or two plants to complete its lifecycle? Where does it lay its eggs? Is it a potential pest? Is it just using the garden as a temporary feeding station, taking a few sucks of nectar from a convenient flower? The questions could go on for half a page.
A yellow flash dancing across the garden in mid-summer is most likely to be the Brimstone Moth, an apparently diurnal moth species whose caterpillars feed on hawthorn, blackthorn and apple, but never to pest proportions.
The looper caterpillar is likely to be a good supply of food for small birds feeding their fledglings in early summer. Another true delight to see, that does not stay still too long, is the six-spot Burnet Moth with its red under-wings and green-black upper-wings and the obvious six red spots.
The caterpillar, although conspicuous with its greenish-yellow and black markings when it is feeding on Birds-foot Trefoil, its favoured food plant, is seldom very obvious to the casual observer. However, the diurnal adult is very obvious, not only in its colouration but in its rather manic flying habit.
One of the true delights of spring and early summer is having fleeting glimpses of the Holly Blue butterfly that is almost certainly feeding on the various hollies and ivies that I have scattered around my garden, as well as those in neighbouring gardens. The caterpillar feeds on buds, flowers and developing berries of holly and ivy but never to pest proportions and the delicate dark blue adult is a real treat in the garden.
The Magpie Moth caterpillar is a polyphagous species, feeding on a wide range of wild and garden plants, including hawthorn, gooseberry, blackthorn, calluna and currants and, with its black, white and orange-red markings, is very conspicuous. The adult moth seems to fly in late afternoons and has the same colouration as the caterpillar, making it very obvious in the garden. Occasionally this can become a pest on Ribes species.
My sources of reference include the internet, books A Field Guide to Caterpillars of Butterflies and Moths in Britain and Europe, A Field Guide in Colour to Butterflies and Moths and The Wildlife of Netherton and District, 1971 to 1982 Second Edition.
If you have seen an unusual butterflies or moths in your garden, why not let me know by writing to Graham’s Butterflies and Moths, Features Department, Huddersfield Daily Examiner, Pennine Business Park, Longbow Close, Bradley Road, Huddersfield, HD2 1GQ.