Monday, 22 August 2016

Gatekeeper and the Crab Spider

A Male Gatekeeper feeding on a Thistle flower unaware of the Crab Spider looking for its next meal. But the butterfly flies safely away, leaving the Spider to go hungry for now.

Brown Hairstreak, life cycle

A typical habitat for the Brown Hairstreak, large Ash trees surrounded by Oak and below, lots of the larval food plant, Blackthorn.

Large Ash tree in the middle of photo, with lots of Blackthorn along the bottom of the trees. There are 13 large Ash trees
around this meadow and the Blackthorn is growing along most of it.

Brown Hairstreaks live in the canopy of large Ash trees and feed on honeydew provided by Aphids. The females descend to lay their eggs on Blackthorn plants, when they can be observed low down nectering on local flora and also basking in the sun. Males sometimes fly down to feed on flowers when honeydew is in short supply.

A male Brown Hairstreak that has come down from the tree tops
to feed on the local Thistles.
The female Brown Hairstreaks start laying their ovum [eggs] about the middle of August. They are laid on the stems of Blackthorn on both mature plants and young shoots, anywhere from 30mm to 1500mm high in sunny sheltered positions. This behaviour was witnessed when i joined Francis Kelly and a team of enthusiasts  from the Surrey branch of B.C. doing an egg search/count earlier this year, [2016] and each egg found was authenticated. They overwinter at this stage.

Not so typical, a Brown Hairstreak ovum was found on this isolated Blackthorn plant, out in the open in this meadow.

A typical sunny but, sheltered area of Blackthorn where eggs were laid.

Two Brown Hairstreak ovum in to of the many positions on a plant
that you can find them.
A freshly laid Brown Hairstreak ovum

A Brown Hairstreak ovum after a long winter and close to hatching.
Photographed, 19th April.

The tiny larva start to emerge anywhere from late April to the middle of May, and sometimes later, depending on the weather. During the day the larva rest on the underside of the Blackthorn leaves, normally feeding only at night, [but this is not 100% as i have witnessed them feeding by day]. There are three moults, [four instars]. The larval stage lasts about eight weeks.

1st instar Brown Hairstreak larva, about 1.5mm in length. Less than
24 hours after emerging from the egg, [feeding early evening]. Date 26th April.

Brown Hairstreak 1st instar larva, 8 days old and still only 2.5-3mmm in length.
This could be down to the cold weather conditions at the time, which would slow both the
larva's eating and growth rate down.

A late 2nd instar Brown Hairstreak larva, 8mm in length, 24 days old, 19th May. The green larva
is beautifully camouflaged and, will stay this colour until its close to pupating. On the 2nd of June
2 weeks later i found another 2nd instar larva, again 8mm in length. Indicating the time difference
between hatching larva.
3rd instar Brown Hairstreak larva resting on the back of a Blackthorn leaf,
10mm in length, 29 days old. The weather is a lot warmer now and, the larva
is growing at a much faster pace.

After only 10 days as a 3rd instar, the Brown Hairstreak larva has made
its final moult, length 12mm,  34 days old.

When the larva are ready to pupate, they descend the host plant to find a suitable crevice in the soil, or a leaf amongst the litter at the base of the Blackthorn to make it's final changes.

After 57 days the 4th instar Brown Hairstreak larva descended to the base of the Blackthorn
to start the final colour change of the larva before finding a suitable place to pupate.

A few hours later the Brown Hairstreak larva has changed  colour

Another hour later and the larva has changed it's appearance again, [rather like that
of a Chameleon] blending in with it's surroundings.

24 hours later, having changed colour again, it seems that the final instar Brown Hairstreak larva
 has chosen this leaf to pupate on.

But no, the larva decided to move. Not being happy with it's first choice of leaf
went on a walk-about to find something more suitable. Same larva as above 48
hours later, different leaf, and it's final chosen place to pupate.

The following day, early morning. The Brown Hairstreak larva has made it's final
colour change before pupating. Date, 25th June.

8 hours later the same day the larva has pupated. Date, 25th June.

A week before the Brown Hairstreak finally emerges.

24 hours before the butterfly emerges the pupa turns a beautiful black in colour. Just
short of one year from when the egg was first laid.

Saturday, 20 August 2016


The Peacock hibernates during the winter months, normally being found hanging from walls and roofs in old buildings, out-houses, barns and log sheds etc.

This Peacock was found hibernating on the back of a piece of discarded ply.
They emerge in the spring, normally in March [both male and female are alike] but, can be seen earlier. I once found one flying on a warm day in January in a sheltered area of a field. In early spring you can quite often find them nectaring on the flowers of Sallow along with other species of butterflies that have also emerged from a long winters sleep, i.e Brimstones, Small Tortoiseshells etc.

Peacock on Sallow flowers in late March.
Once copulation has taken place the females lay their eggs in large clusters on the underside of Common Nettle leaves in a sunny position.

Peacock sunning itself on Common Nettle where they lay their eggs
on the underside of the leaves.
The butterflies from these eggs start to emerge about the middle of July. They will continuously feed themselves on the local flowers building up their fat reserves to last them through their long winter hibernation.

Peacock showing the undersides of it's wings, feeding on Bramble
flowers on the 18th July

Peacock nectaring on Fleabane, building-up it's fat reserves for the long
 hibernation over the winter months.