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.



Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Hibernating Butterflies

Inspired by my visit to Inchkeith island to look for over-wintering butterflies last November, I have been occupying myself this winter looking for hibernating butterflies here in East Lothian.

I started by looking in a local ruined castle. It has an underground chamber, which I thought could be perfect for butterflies to shelter in for the winter. I didn't find any in the main chamber, but the tunnel leading into it had two Peacock butterflies, Aglais io, in it, just behind this arch:

I think there was too much light in the main chamber, but the tunnel was very dark.

After that a friend and I were given permission to have a look around the buildings on a large estate near the coast. We checked out some of the buildings, including the boathouse and curling house, but they were both too light. Unfortunately, the most likely buildings, including an ice house were locked up. However, we found an old stone shed in the walled garden and sneaked a look around the door. There in the rafters we spotted several Peacock butterflies. Unfortunately, my camera couldn't focus on them in the dark. We think there were at least 18 in this group and there were two other smaller clusters.

On another occasion I checked out the old bread oven in another castle.

Initially, I thought there was nothing there, but then I noticed a Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae, in the crack between two stones.

It wasn't until I was looking at my pictures that I noticed that what I thought was one butterfly turned out to be two roosting next to each other. These two are perilously close to a spider's nest.

There were 16 butterflies bin total scattered around the oven. I found it interesting that the first two locations had only Peacock butterflies and this castle had only Small Tortoiseshells.

At work, I met an archaeologist and I mentioned to him what I had found and asked him if there were any other old buildings he could recommend. He suggested a ruined house on the coast that had an old bread oven in the cellar.

Sure enough when we looked inside the bread oven there were some Peacock butterflies.

Some of them were rather worn, showing the colour of the upper side of their wings. We found eleven Peacocks there. At each of these locations I also spotted Herald moths and mosquitoes sharing the winter accommodation.

I rent an old barn on a nearby farm where I keep a couple of old cars and our log supply. Last weekend I was collecting some logs when I noticed some butterfly wings on the floor. The more I looked the more I found. I counted over 100 individual wings, which would mean at least 25 butterflies. Most of the wings were from Small Tortoiseshells, but there were about ten Peacock wings, too.

A couple of years ago we stapled some thick polythene sheeting across the rafters to stop pigeons roosting there. This must have created a nice dark space for butterflies to hibernate. Unfortunately, I guess it is also home to several spiders, which have been enjoying a good feed. I hope that a good number of butterflies have managed to make it through the winter and will soon be flying around the farm.

Last week I received my first 2015 record of a butterfly flying in East Lothian. I am excited to think that I will soon be seeing butterflies again. But, strangely, I am looking forward to next winter now that I know the sorts of places to look for hibernating butterflies!

14 comments:

  1. Intriguing place! I'm still waiting for my Tetrosphynx moth's pupae to break. It has taken almost 3 weeks. They move a little, so they are not dead! They lie on the ground, unlike those of a butterfly.

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    1. Thanks Maria. It has been an interesting time and I have been promised the keys to ancient house on Friday, so it will be interesting to see what is in there! I hope your moth pupae continue to do well. It will be interesting to hear how they get on.

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  2. Hello Nick!:) What an exciting and a fascinating post! Wonderful captures, even though most of these sightings were in dark places. I have never seen a cluster, and it is, interesting that each place had one type of butterfly. I have already seen a Tortoiesshell butterfly on the wing and one Peacock. The weather is warmer now, and I should see more very soon.
    Warm Regards.

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    1. Thanks Sonjia. It has been a really interesting experience for me. I have learned a lot, but there is still so much more I want to know!

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  3. Nick, I meant to ask you, is it normal for a moth 'Tetrio Sphinx' pupa to take three weeks to come out? They are at least 7 cm long. I know they are not dead, but the three week long wait is making me a bit nervous. Do you have an idea as to why they may be taking so long?

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    1. Hi Maria,
      I wouldn't start to worry yet! I am normally amazed at how quickly butterflies and moths go through their various stages in the tropics. A matter of a few days there, with the equivalent creature taking several weeks here. Moths here can spend several months as a pupa. I have been having a quickl look on the internet and I see that the Tetrio Sphinx moth flies, in Southern Florida, between March and September. The caterpillars can be found between July and September. This would imply that they remain as pupae there between September and March. This period is probably much shorter in Puerto Rico, but three weeks doesn't sound out of the ordinary. The only concern may be of parasites, but if they seem to be alive then hopefully all is good. Do keep us informed of how they get on!

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  4. When I move them slightly, they wiggle but just a tiny bit, so this why I know they are alive. It just surprised me that they took this long because this is a tropical island. My other theory is that since they're in captivity, they don't get the heat of the sun during the day (the way they would have below the Frangipani tree). So they're missing some elements that have slowed down the process: being in captivity is not the same....

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    1. The fact that they are wiggling is a good sign! I was wondering if they were at the correct temperature or getting the correct amount of sunlight. I imagine that they probably pupate in the dry leaves below the Frangipani tree. There they may experience a change in temperature from the sun. I suppose that the best you can do is to try to recreate the conditions they would experience in the wild.

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    2. Will do, thank you very much.

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  5. Hi Nick. I find this article so fascinating. What a wonderful place to visit and to know where to look for sleeping butterflies. I thought I saw a spider next to some sleeping butterflies in one of your shots and then the last one with the wings on the floor. Ah, Nature. BTW I have been meaning to tell you that I love your other passion too. Your cars look like a lot of fun. I would love one myself. ;>)

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    1. Carol, yes I noticed that spider next to the butterflies and wondered why it hadn't eaten them. I have been told that the wings are probably the result of bats or mice eating the butterflies, rather than spiders, as I had thought.
      The old cars are a lot of fun. I need to revive that blog as I have started to restore one of the cars with my son. I used to do a lot of work on the cars and compete in rallies in Scotland and Ireland before the kids were born. I am maybe a little old and sensible for the competition these days, but I would love to have more time to restore them.

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  6. Nick, the moth is out, do you think I should release it immediately? It came out last night, and it was just flapping its wings, but still in a slumber-like state (not flying). How long do these large moths (he's like an inch wide and 3 inches long) take to fly? I know, he must be ready by now. They come out with some limbs which are still bent, and the proboscis retracted. I want him to be really ready. I posted it on the blog.

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    1. Maria, sorry not to reply earlier. Your moth should be fine to fly by the evening following eclosion. If you put it somewhere shady it will fly off in its own time. It is unlikely to fly off immediately on release, unlike a butterfly. Great to here that it made it through pupation.

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    2. I suppose it's because they are nocturnal that they take their time. I noticed that also. They seem to have a whole different metabolism than butterflies, they beat their wings faster and the huge size they have.

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