Monday, September 16, 2013

Butterflies - Lycaenids and Pierids (Blues, hairstreaks, coppers & whites)

LYCAENIDS (Blues, coppers, hairstreaks)
This is to my mind the most fascinating family of butterflies to occur in Ireland. With over 5,000 species worldwide, 75% of them have some kind of relationship with ants. Common blue larvae and pupae for instance, whilst not wholly dependant on ants, are on occasion picked up and treated as part of ant hives. This affords them things like protection. I’m not sure if Irish members of the species have been found to do this though. The other thing that draws me to this family is the tiny size, bold colours and the distinctive face. Nearly all members of the family have black eyes ringed by white hairs. I’m not too pleased with my progress in this family. I have seen plenty of holly blues in Fota and in Cork city but haven’t to my dismay been able to find any at eye level, or even within reach of my 300mm lens. Indeed this species prefers staying up high on holly and ivy plants. Similarly brown and purple hairstreaks are rarely even seen, never mind photographed due to their tree canopy habitats. As for small blue, the money simply hasn’t been there to seek out this tiny and rare species. I hope to change that for 2014.

Common blue (Polyommatus icarus)
The common blue as its name suggests is by far the most common Irish representative of the family. The male is a brilliant blue colour with an attractive white&black fringing to its wings. The female comes in a range of colours from brown to purple to blue but has added orange panels on the upper wings. Both genders have orange panels on their underwings which set them apart from small and holly blues. It seems to have been a great year for them in Co.Cork as I have seen many (an understatement) in Mizen head, Rosscarbery, Lee fields, Atlantic pond area, Carrigaline, Fota island, Great island, Littleisland, Monkstown, Rostellan & Midleton.

Green hairstreak (Callophrys rubi)
A first for me this year seen in Brow head. The green hairstreak seems to be the only remotely approachable hairstreak in Ireland. That’s fine though as it’s also the most attractive with its bright green colours. Seen on one of my favourite days this summer. I am hoping to get some shots with the dotted wing pattern next year.

Small copper (Lycaena phlaeas)
The small copper is interesting in that I missed it entirely last year, and the year before that I only saw one in Ballycotton. I assumed therefore that this was a relatively scarce species overall. To my delight I was wrong. I have now found it in Lee fields, Tullamore, Ballycotton, Carrigaline, Minane & Rosscarbery. It’s an unusual species in that it is sometimes flighty and sometimes approachable. It is the only member of the copper family found in Ireland and can be easily told apart from other butterflies by its tiny size, bright copper panels on the wings and attractive greyish orange underwings.

PIERIDAE (Whites & brimstones)
This family usually referred to as whites has eight Irish species. With the exception of the brimstone and clouded yellow they are all white in colour and generally look quite similar. Because it was the focus of a previous blog post I have excluded the orange tip butterfly from this post.

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)
I only found this species last week in Tullamore, Offaly. It is probably the most unusual looking white in Ireland with its leaf like shape and greenish colour. It’s quite rare in Cork and other southern counties because of its dependence on buckthorn, a plant that only grows in some areas. I was delighted to pick up this species as my only opportunity to find it coincided with a dreary and rain filled day. Indeed I only found one individual. Luckily it was more then willing to be photographed.

Small white (Pieris rapae)
This species should probably be called the regular sized white as its not noticeably smaller then wood whites or green-veined whites. It is closely related to the below two species and can be told apart mainly by the black tips to its wings and the underwing. The black tips are relatively small and don’t extend down the wings edges (they do in large white), and the underwings are a light yellowish colour and don’t have dark veins (they do in green-veined white). All three species are quite common and have been seen in nearly every place I have been this summer. This species should probably be called the regular sized white as its not noticeably smaller then wood whites or green-veined whites. It is closely related to the below two species and can be told apart mainly by the black tips to its wings and the underwing. The black tips are relatively small and don’t extend down the wings edges (they do in large white), and the underwings are a light yellowish colour and don’t have dark veins (they do in green-veined white). All three species are quite common and have been seen in nearly every place I have been this summer.

Green-veined white (Pieris napi)
Probrably the most common of the three Pieris butterflies.

Large white (Pieris brassicae)
Noticeably bigger then the other Pieris butterflies. More extensive black wing tips help with identification also.

The list so far
Holly blue (seen but not photographed)
Common blue (seen)
Small blue (not seen)
Brown hairstreak (burren only species, not seen)
Purple hairstreak (not seen)
Green hairstreak (seen)
Small copper (seen)
Green-veined white (seen)
Large white (seen)
Small white (seen)
Orange tip (seen)
Brimstone (seen)
Clouded yellow (not seen)
Cryptic wood white (possibly seen, unconfirmed)
Wood white (Burren only species, not seen)

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!)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Butterflies - Fritillaries & Nymphalinis

Nymphalini and fritillary butterflies are colourful members of the nymphalid butterfly family. These butterflies are arguably our most colourful and are certainly our most well known. It would be hard to find someone who has never seen a peacock butterfly or a small tortoiseshell.

Marsh fritillary (Euphydras aurinia) 
My first ‘first timer’ species of 2013. Marsh fritillaries are quite rare and are (partially at least) protected in Ireland. This stunning butterfly is worth seeking out. The wing patterns are quite interesting. Unfortunately I found it hard to get an underwing shot and most of my shots where interrupted by tufts of grass partially obscuring the butterflies.

Silver-washed fritillary (Argynnis paphia) 
Before this summer I was completely unaware of this butterfly. I don’t know if my expertise has increased or if this species had an especially good year but I have seen it in four different locations now. This is Ireland’s largest species of butterfly. It makes quite an impression sailing around the forest. This species prefers areas with trees unlike the closely related dark green fritillary which is generally found in coastal habitats.

Peacock (Inachis io) 
The peacock butterfly is probably Ireland’s best known species. Its large size, bold red colouration and the fact that it hibernates in houses makes it almost impossible to avoid. They are seen for a period in spring before they die off but a second generation later in the summer occurs. These later butterflies can be truly magnificent with their vivid red coloration and bright blue eye spots.

Small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) 
Another very common butterfly. This species can also be seen through much of the summer but has a massive population explosion around August. I have seen over twenty individuals on one bush. Interestingly on my travels I have noticed that small tortoiseshells outnumber peacocks in some places whilst in others peacocks are far more regular. In my opinion this species looks its best when the blue dots on the rims of its wings are at their most vibrant.

Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) 
Red admirals are unusual in that I constantly encounter solo individuals throughout the summer but never manage to get close. Then around August they emerge in their hundreds and become very approachable. Red admirals often stay unphased even when you are mere inches away. This large orange reddish species is a staple of flowering shrubs in July-August and can be seen almost anywhere.

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui) 
This relatively common butterfly eluded me last year which prompted me to search far and wide for them. I found my first individuals in Carrigaline, a week later though; I had seen them in about 5 different sites. It’s a relative of the above red admiral but can be easily told apart by its duller orange coloration. Anywhere the above three species can be seen is worth checking for painted ladies.

The list so far 
Peacock (seen)
Small Tortoiseshell (seen)
Painted Lady (seen)
Red Admiral (seen)
Silver-washed Fritillary (seen)
Dark Green Fritillary (a species I unfortunatly missed this year)
Marsh Fritillary (seen)
Pearl-bordered Fritillary (a burren only species that I hope to find next summer)
Comma (Not found in Cork. Again, I will be seeking it out in 2014)