This I-Spy Butterflies and Moths book was one of the reasons I became fascinated by insects as a child. I loved the Red Admiral on the front cover, particularly because they were not so easy to find where I lived and so seeing one felt very special. Here is a photograph I took last year of a Red Admiral near to where I grew up. Maybe I am getting better at spotting them!
Although the Red Admiral is a beautiful butterfly, it is not my absolute favourite. The butterfly I came to love above all others, and the one that I look forward to seeing every year, is the Peacock butterfly, Aglais io. These beautiful butterflies are out and about in our gardens, woodlands and open spaces right now. On a sunny day, see if you can spot one basking in the sunshine. Read on to find out why Peacocks are my favourite butterflies.
Masters of Disguise
One of the most distinctive of our butterflies, and surely one of the most beautiful, there is no mistaking the Peacock. I just love their stunning wings with their dark red background topped with four iridescent eyes resembling the feathers of a peacock bird. In fact, the Peacock butterfly is a master of mimicry. The eyes make it look like something much scarier than a butterfly. When you look at the body and the eyes together, they look, I think, remarkably like the face of an owl. That would certainly put off a smaller bird from trying to have a peck! The underside of the Peacock is also worth mentioning as its woody, bark-like colour and patterns provide excellent camouflage when the butterfly’s wings are closed.
Don’t get stung
Looking for a Peacock caterpillar? Then there is only one place you should look – in a bed of nettles! Be careful not to get stung, this is where the adult females lay their eggs. What a great adaptation to use the plant’s stinging capabilities to protect your young! Other species of butterfly also do this, including the Red Admiral and the Small Tortoiseshell. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to allow nettles to grow in your gardens. Without them, several important butterfly species have nowhere to lay their eggs. Try to leave a wild area in your garden to encourage the widest variety of insects possible. Pretty flowers are important but they are not the only plants that insects need!
Hidden Winter Treasures
Peacocks are one of the few butterflies in this country that hibernate in the winter as adults, emerging in the spring to mate and lay the eggs for the next generation. The other butterfly species that over-winter as adults are the Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), the Comma (Polygonia c-album), the Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) and the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). We may also be able to add the Large Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros) to this list. Once widespread, this butterfly has been lost in the UK since the 1960s. However, sightings in Southern England have been increasing and it is hoped that this butterfly is making a comeback. To find out more, check out this interesting article Tracking down the Large Tortoiseshell.
Every now and again, you might be lucky enough to find a Peacock butterfly sheltering in a quiet corner of your house or in your garden shed during the winter. If you do, don’t disturb them as they need to stay asleep until spring. As a child, I remember finding a hibernating Peacock butterfly in the folds of some rarely-drawn curtains in the cold spare bedroom. I kept peeking at it regularly until one early spring day, the butterfly was gone.
Next week, check out Susie’s post showing you how to make a butterfly feeder to help attract butterflies to your outside space.
Do you have a favourite butterfly? I’d love to hear about it. Contact us or email firstname.lastname@example.org