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.

Monday, 1 May 2017

It's a Girl!

I am afraid that the start of this post is a little depressing, but please don't give up on it, there is a happy ending!!
I always do as much as I can to try to encourage butterflies to my garden and I have planted flowers to feed the adult butterflies and caterpillars. Although our garden is very small, we have tried to provide as much interest as we can for wildlife.
There is a small area just outside our fence where I plant Nasturtiums each year. Very often I discover that Small Whites, Pieris rapae, or Large Whites, Pieris brassicae, have been laying eggs on them. In 2015 there were none, but last year I found a batch of Large White caterpillars.

Sadly, they slowly disappeared, one by one and I suspect that the spiders living under the eves on the garden shed were responsible.

I had been keeping an eye on an Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines, caterpillar which was living on a Garlic Mustard plant near a local path. Unfortunately, one day I noticed that a neighbour had tidied up the side of the path and cut the Garlic Mustard down. I searched through the cuttings and found the caterpillar, and took it home, where I kept it on freshly picked Garlic Mustard seed heads.

At about the same time, while I was walking my butterfly transect, I saw a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, laying eggs on some thistles. I picked one of the thistles, so that I could watch the egg and caterpillar develop.

The egg was laid on 8th June and by 22 June, it had changed colour.

The following day it had hatched.

Sadly, the day after that we had torrential rain for about 40 minutes and when I later looked I couldn't find either caterpillar. I found the Orange Tip caterpillar floating in a puddle and fear that the Painted Lady had also been washed away.

Later in the year I was down at the property that we have inherited from my father. I was cutting back vegetation that was overhanging the stream and realized that I had cut a Garlic Mustard seed head. When I checked I discovered there was an Orange Tip chrysalis on it. I took the seed head and put it in a pot of soil.

I then checked the vegetation along the side of the stream and found another six Orange Tip chrysalises. Despite spending hours looking for them in the past I have only ever seen two previously. As you can see they are very well disguised!

One of the chrysalis was dangling upside down, so I cut that seed head off and added it to the pot.

This species stays as a chrysalis from about July right through to the following April or May. So I bought a gauze cage and kept the chrysalises in my garage until this spring.
When the weather warmed up a bit I brought the cage outside. Towards the middle of April I noticed that the upside-down chrysalis had started to colour up.

Two days later I was very dismayed to see that the butterfly had tried to emerge, but sadly its wings had stuck to the chrysalis and become deformed. I don't know why this has happened. It could be because the chrysalis was very dry after spending the winter in the garage, or I have been told that it could be just bad luck.

So, having had so many failures I was worried for the final Orange Tip chrysalis I had. It was two weeks later when it started to change in colour. This picture was taken on 22nd April.

The following day the pattern on the wings was much more obvious. The chrysalis is actually leaning backwards with its wings folded under it, so we are seeing the pattern of the upper side of the wings. The lack of orange means that this one is a female.

The weather turned very cold for a few days and cleverly the butterfly was able to delay its emergence. When I arrived home from work on the 27th April, my wife told me the good news - the butterfly had emerged successfully! What a thrill!!

The following morning was lovely and sunny, so I decided to take the butterfly round to a local farm where they have a lot of lovely habitat for wildlife. I have noticed a corner of the farm yard where there was a patch of Garlic Mustard in a lovely sunny spot. The butterfly was on the top of the cage when I arrived, so I carefully unzipped it and let it warm up in the sun.

After a few minutes it opened up its wings to absorb the warmth of the sun.

And a few minutes later it took its first flight and landed on an Honesty plant, which is also used as a food plant by the caterpillars.

She sat there for some time and then flew around for a little, settling on another Honesty flower. She didn't feed, but just seemed to be enjoying the warmth of the sun.

It was such a joy watching her fly around and enjoy here new surroundings. I was thrilled that she had a lovely sunny day to enjoy her new life.
All of this has made me realize what a perilous existence butterflies have. I suppose that to maintain a sable population each butterfly only needs two of its eggs to reach adulthood and go on to breed.


  1. I am glad that it all had a happy ending. Butterflies are indeed such fragile creatures.

    1. Yes, it is a tough life being a butterfly. Natural predators, weather and everything that humans do all play their part!

  2. What a great post, Nick!
    At least you manage to save and encourage butterflies in a very clever way :)
    I would love to observe an Orange tip hatch!
    Hugs from France !

    1. Hi Noushka,
      Although I love to see butterflies flying around, I am really interested to learn about all of their life stages. And they keep me interested during the winter!! I would love to have more time to spend studying caterpillars and chrysalises.

  3. Gracias, Nick por este bellísimo reportaje. Saludos desde Asturias.

    1. Gracias Belen,
      ¡Una historia triste con un final feliz! He disfrutado leyendo sobre las mariposas que has visto.

  4. Those are quite interesting and some sad experiences. I am so glad that in the end the last one survived, it really is lovely as can be. How wonderful that you continue to learn about butterflies and to share that with us.

    1. Every time I learn something about butterflies I realise that there is so much that I don't know! It is great to think that they will keep me occupied for years to come.

  5. Good Morning Nick, it's good to see you, and thank you for your visit. What a fascinating post this has been, with all the drama and excitement, great photography, and narrative. The butterflies we admire as they flutter by, do have a perilous existence from the tiny egg to emerging from their chrysalises, as so much is stacked against them as you have pointed out, not to mention their insect predators even when they are in flight. I can imagine your joy, being able to save the Orange Tip. Well done Nick,... It gave me a good feeling to know the outcome of your efforts.:)

    1. Hi Sonjia,
      This morning I was talking to the family who own the farm where I released the Orange Tip and they were delighted that I had chosen their farm for it to live on. I hope that next year we may see some of her descendants flying there. We have great plans for the property that we have inherited from my dad. I hope that we can create a lot of different habitats to attract butterflies.

  6. Oh what a lovely story! I am envious because i haven't done that. As you know i only stay in the province garden Sat night and can't seem to squeeze all i need to do with my hoyas and still take shots of the butterflies, and we have plenty. I would like to do just that in the very near future.

    Your last pet is so lovely, and i love the way you developed your little story. I think i should emulate that style too. Because i lack time, i only see ours when they are already very quick and not basking anymore, so already very difficult to shoot. They are either sipping or courting or warding off their neighbors, sometime i get impatient and go back to the hoyas!

    1. Thanks Andrea. It was lovely to be able to watch the different stages of these species. Like you, I lack time to do more, but when we move to our new house I have a lot of plans to provide habitats and observe each stage of their lives. It would be lovely to have more time to spend enjoying the butterflies and photographing them.

  7. Hello Nick!:) Thank you for getting back to me. I'm so relieved that you and your family are well. As I hadn't heard from you for so long I was beginning to suspect something was wrong, but now you have explained I completely understand. :) Take care!:)