The earlier pictures were taken on my wee compact Canon ixus 970IS, which involved sneaking up on the butterflies. This can be very frustrating when they fly off, but very rewarding when they don't!

Since 2012 I have been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, which allows me to zoom in to the butterflies from a couple of metres away.



Thursday, 2 January 2014

Speckled Wood - Pararge aegeria


The Speckled Wood, Parage aegeria, is a small to medium sized butterfly with a wingspan of about 50mm. As the name suggests it is usually found in wooded areas, choosing sunny sheltered spots, where males tend to take up territories.

Pararge aegeria tircis

It is a butterfly that excites me, as until recently it hadn't been recorded in East Lothian. Over the last few years it has been extending its range in the UK northwards. In 2009 a colleague saw one just inside East Lothian and another one was seen the following year. In 2011 I came across a small colony of Speckled Woods at John Muir Country Park, about ten miles further along the coast.

In only two years since then they have continued to spread through East Lothian and now they are found in many small areas of woodland over about two thirds of the county.

The map on the left above show the distribution of Speckled Woods in 1970. I have marked East Lothian in red. (This map is taken from The Provisional Atlas of the Insects of the British Isles, 1970) The map on the right is taken from the UK Butterflies web site and shows the distribution in 2004. The butterfly has clearly extended its range considerably in those 40 years. It has also continued to spread northwards by about 100 miles since the second map was produced.

The caterpillars feed on a variety of different grasses. In the UK adult butterflies are on the wing from late March to early October in several generations. They can overwinter as a caterpillar or chrysalis. In southern Europe adult butterflies can be seen almost all year round.

Pararge aegeria tircis

The Speckled Wood occurs over most of Europe and there are four subspecies. Pararge aegeria aegeria occurs in northern Africa and south-west Europe to about half way across France. It has orange markings on a brown background.

Pararge aegeria aegeria
Pararge aegeria aegeria

The subspecies that is found in much of the UK is tircis, which occurs in much of north east Europe. This has smaller cream markings instead of orange and a slightly darker background colour.

Pararge aegeria tircis
Pararge aegeria tircis

There are two other subspecies - insula, which occurs on the Isles of Scilly. Its markings are somewhere between cream and orange. The subspecies oblita occurs in north-west Scotland and its markings are said to be closer to white on a dark brown, almost black, background.

When we were in Tenerife last July, I was delighted to find the Canary Speckled Wood, Pararge xiphioides. This looks much like the southern European subspecies. The most obvious difference is the white markings on the underside of the wings.

Pararge xiphioides
Pararge xiphioides
Pararge xiphioides

There is another species of Speckled Wood, Pararge xiphia, which lives on the island of Madeira. I haven't seen it, but that gives me a good excuse to go there on holiday in the future! I wonder if the family agree!!

23 comments:

  1. These are as awesome as usual. I had no idea you were in Scotland. Is that where you live? My shooting Monarch days are over, for now anyway, I haven't seen any more larva on that huge Calotropis milkweed bush. Maybe in spring it will begin again. You must miss these beauties now in the winter don't you?

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    1. Thanks Maria. Yes, it is frustrating living somewhere where there are only butterflies around for six months in the year. That is why I enjoy reading blogs from around the world, particularly tropical areas. It is heartening to see the first signs of buds swelling here. I know that the coldest weather of the winter is still to come, but at least the days are beginning to lengthen and it seems to be a little brighter!

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  2. Hi Nick!
    Yes I know you are in the UK! ;-)
    The Bluethroat is a migratory bird that you might see along the coast (don't ask me which one!!) twice a year at spring and end of summer. They fly along the French Atlantic coast but I find it easier to go to Spain across the Pyrenees. Some individuals winter around dams there.
    nice of you to drop by, I am so busy with my hides and buzzards right now!
    I enjoyed you series tremendously, it is a great pleasure to see the Pararge butterfly again in bright sunlight!
    I follow the weather over the British Islands, it looks terrible....
    I guess you can't go out much to take pictures...
    Keep well and warm!

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    1. Hi Noushka, Yes, it is really just not bright enough to take pictures of much more than landscapes at the moment.

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  3. Beautiful little brown!
    I love learning about temperate butterflies.
    I had no idea that it could be this variable, with so many subspecies!

    Oh, good to hear the miserable Scottish isn't getting you down. According to the weather report, your day is going to peak at 8 degrees! I was frozen walking around in Kangaroo Island, which by the way, is much warmer than your 3 degrees average.

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    1. They were lying Jonny! It only reached 4 degrees today, but I spent the morning cutting logs, which kept me warm. In the afternoon we went for a walk along the beach which was rather bracing!

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  4. Hi Nick,
    Thanks for your interesting comment about the buzzards!
    I would be surprised if you didn't get an influx of northern individuals in winter increasing the locals' numbers.
    Watch out for the light breasted ones!!
    Cheers, keep well!

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  5. I used not to think much of brown butterflies, but this changed after I got into macro photography. I can now appreciate the varying patterns on in various hues of browns and yellows. This butterfly as shot by you is simply beautiful.

    I was just wondering on how you keep tab of butterflies sighthings in various locations. How on earth did you get all this information - from a butterfly group of sorts?

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    1. I completely agree. It is really only since I have been photographing butterflies that I have noticed the subtle differences and variations between species. Before that they were just blue ones or brown ones!!
      I work with our local Ranger Service. Now I am in charge of paths, rights of way and public access, but I was frustrated that the records of the Ranger Service remained in note books, put on shelves and then lost. Now I co-ordinate the records from my colleagues and more recently we have enrolled a number of enthusiastic volunteers who also give me their records. There are more than 20 people in East Lothian who let me know what they have seen and I submit the records to Butterfly Conservation who keep a national record.

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    2. Wow, you have an important job as a statistician and gatekeeper of native or local butterflies. Its a win-win situation where you satisfy your passion and at the same time play an important role in keeping tabs of them.

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    3. Elsie, I feel very lucky to be able to do this. I would like to be able to do more to protect butterflies, but I think that having good records is the first step towards ensuring their future protection.

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  6. Hi Nick, a beautiful butterfly despite the drab color. I went to chase some butterflies too, but I am not posting them in blogs yet, i've posted them in Facebook though. You should see my other blogpost, where i traversed some old paths in the woods, and ive seen lots of butterflies. Unfortunately, i don't have the time to chase and shoot them, i intend to go back and take only the butterflies. However, it might not be in the next few days, i hope they are still there when i finally have the time. Re ur comment in my post i will answer them in the site. thanks.

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    1. That sounds like a lovely area you walked in. I would love to see some pictures of butterflies you see next time you are there.

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  7. Hello Nick!:) A most informative post with lots of really excellent photos to show the various subspecies. The only Speckled Wood I have seen around these parts is the "Pararge aegeria aergeria," it's a lovely bright coloured butterfly but I would love to see all ones you have been fortunate enough to photograph.

    By the way this is not the first time I have visited or tried to post my comment.Every time I click to post my comment it disapears,...fingers crossed this time!!

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    1. Thanks Sonjia. The first Speckled Woods I saw were in Portugal, in the Algarve. I think that I now prefer the more subtle colours of the sub-species that occurs in Scotland. My wife, who I think is suffering from an overdose of butterflies (!!) said that she likes this one's coffee and cream colours!
      Blogger isn't the most reliable of web sites. I love being able to read about what other enthusiasts are seeing around the world, but it is very frustrating when comments don't post.

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  8. lovely to think of butterflies in our snow covered world
    so beautiful~

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    1. Tammie Lee, At this time of year I keep reminding myself that they are still out there, some as adult butterflies, some as chrysalises, some as caterpillars and some as eggs. All hiding in cracks and crevices, waiting for the weather to warm up!

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  9. Great post and pics, Nick.
    BTW, I was just curious. You mentioned that butterflies in the UK overwinter as caterpillars or as a chrysalis. So does that mean that they spend the entire duration of winter as a caterpillar? That really is a very long time to wait!

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    1. Sunita, I have a caterpillar of a Small Copper living on a plant in a pot. It hatched out last August and it will remain as a caterpillar until April when it will form a chrysalis. I think it will be another month before it becomes a butterfly. It must be a long, cold winter for it! The Orange Tip butterfly forms a chrysalis in July, which won't eclose until April of the following year! I am always amazed when I read about tropical butterflies that are only a caterpillar or chrysalis for a matter of days. An obvious reflection on the temperatures in each country!!

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  10. You are absolutely right about not being complacent in regards to noticing nature. Many times I've given something a cursory look as a 'that old thing' only to find, that old thing is a bit different. What an informative post! I didn't realize that butterflies hung out as butterflies and caterpillars in the dead of winter. That is amazing. I didn't know that the tropical species have such a short time as caterpillars or chrysalis either--no wonder I don't see them very often. It's not that I'm not observant after all ;). I also learned that John Muir was a Scot. Being a Californian, I have read his works and walked a few John Muir trails myself. Maybe I knew he was from Scotland and forgot it. Everytime I learn a new bird, I forget something else. I'm sure I will remember now. Great post.
    Sue

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    1. Hi Sue,
      Yes, John Muir was born not far from here in Dunbar. I think he left for America when he was 9! I work for the local council and I developed a path along the coast of East Lothian which we called the John Muir Way. Sadly a new initiative to develop a path across Scotland has taken that name and my path is no longer named! The new path would be a real disappointment to anyone who anticipates a John Muir experience!

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  11. These guys are gorgeous. I especially like the cream and brown one from your area. So lovely.

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    1. I have to agree Sylvia, I think it is the nicest combination!

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