Monday, September 9, 2013

Butterflies - Satyrini butterflies (browns)

Continuing with the theme of insect lists this post is about the Satyrini family, a group of butterflies more commonly known as browns. Like the last post these butterflies are nymphalids but unlike them they are mostly brown coloured with orange or white markings.

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus britanniae)
The butterfly I wanted to find most this year was the gatekeeper, a small member of the family that for reasons that aren’t quite clear to me only really occur in southern coastal regions. It is therefore pretty nifty that one of their strongholds is in Littleisland, a mere 10 minute train ride outside the city. You could be forgiven for thinking that this species is a meadow brown but there are a couple of differences. The orange is much brighter and is obvious in flight, the overall size is much smaller, the underwing pattern is quite distinct with little white spots on a brown camouflage background, and the black spots on the upper wings have two white pupils rather then one in meadow brown. The later is less of a diagnostic feature as some meadow browns; especially the Irish subspecies have two white pupils too. Seen in Littleisland & Rosscarbery.

Meadow brown (Maniola jurtina iernes)
This species is one of Ireland’s most widespread species. It is quite large and can be seen almost anywhere. The brown wave pattern on the underwing and the small orange panels on the upper wing make it difficult to confuse with other species. The shade of orange and its intensity seem to vary quite a bit, sometimes it’s barely visible, and other times it is almost a deep red colour. Seen everywhere

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) 
This is a very common butterfly that occurs in great numbers between July and August. This short flight season however does make it quite easy to miss this species. Its dark brown (often black looking) colours and contrasting spots/ wing borders make it easy to identify. This species loves basking and is one of the easiest to photograph with open wings. Seen in Blarney, Cork city, Littleisland, Fota island, Ballycotton & Killarney.

Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria tircis) 
The speckled wood is one of Ireland’s most abundant species and can be found in almost any place with vegetation and trees. It can be quite approachable and usually stands out due to the whitish spots that cover much of its wings. It is around all summer with population swells every few weeks or so. Seen everywhere.

Wall brown (lasiommata megera) 
This is one of Ireland’s endangered butterflies although here in Cork we are lucky to have plenty of spots to find them. I’m not sure if its universal but this species seems to occur mostly in coastal areas. The only time I have seen it inland was in Minane. It is medium sized and generally has a much bolder orange pattern that sets it apart from other browns. They can be nightmarishly hard to approach. Seen Ballycotton, Mizen head, Minane & Robert’s cove.

Small heath (Coenonympha pamphilus pamphilus) 
Small heaths are tiny butterflies that stay quite well hidden most of the time and are therefore hard to find. Still, perseverance in suitable habitat usually leads to at least a sighting or two. A good picture is not nearly as easy though as the small size and shy temperament make approach quite problematic. The picture below is (unfortunately) my best this year, thought it’s on the top of the list for next year! Seen in Ballycotton, Killarney, Valentia island & Mizen head.

The list so far
Speckled wood (seen)
Meadow brown (seen)
Ringlet (seen)
Wall brown (seen)
Grayling (Hope to find 2014)
Gatekeeper (seen)
Small heath (seen)
Large heath (Again, 2014!)

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