The Curious Incident of the Unfamiliar Butterfly In the Kitchen
This morning I was slaving over a hot tax return form when Liz called me from the kitchen: “Do you want to see a butterfly?” Any sentence with “butterfly” in it gets me running, and so I ran to the kitchen to find this butterfly on a window pane. It looked like nothing I had ever seen before. Oh, the excitement!! I rushed (lots of fast exercise here) to get the camera and a glass jam jar to put the butterfly in so I could take its portrait before releasing it into the wild. Once released into the wild, ie the garden, it flew quickly away, so I only have indoor pictures to show.
Cath contacted our Records Officer, Bill Shreeves, who replied:
You are completely correct in your identification as a male Long -Tailed Blue & in your comment on Flickr that it is very rare. With global warming we are hopeful that in time it might become a regular inhabitant – it does after all occur commonly all over southern Europe & Asia, Africa & even Australia.
Our problem is that none of its stages seem to be able to get through the British winter. One of the first ever recorded in Britain was back in 1859 in Christchurch. After that it was seen fairly regularly but only in big numbers in 1945 & 1990.
It is a very bold migrant & in Asia steadily climbs the foothills of the Himalayas reaching Nepal at as high as 3,650 metres & reverse migrating to the lowlands!
In Dorset at least one has been reported yearly since 2005 except for 2006 & 2008. Yours is the only one so far for 2013.
Many of the records are in September but in 2007 there was one around the same time as yours – 14th October in that case – also found indoors. This makes me wonder whether the caterpillar or chrysalis might somehow have been brought inside.
The caterpillar feeds inside the pods of leguminous plants like everlasting peas, lentils & Bladder-senna. A famous example was in 1999 when butterflies found indoors were shown to have emerged from batches of mange-tout peas brought all the way from Kenya!
Not long ago I was invited to verify a Long Tailed Blue which suddenly appeared in a pantry. The householders had bought legumes some while back in an outdoor market and we hypothesised that they had contained a caterpillar or chrysalis.
If you can remember anything similar which might account for how yours came to be on a window pane in your kitchen please let me know!
It seems most likely that the long-tailed blue must have entered our kitchen as a caterpillar or chrysalis in something, although I can’t think what, as most of the vegetables we buy are in shrink-wrapped supermarket packets and kept in the fridge. Home-grown vegetables enter the house accompanied by various insects – but then how would the caterpillar have got into them in the first place, if it’s a migrant from warmer climes? In the hot weather we have the kitchen door open all day, but even at the butterfly peak, only about one managed to fly into the kitchen. So in all, it’s a bit of a mystery how the long-tailed blue got here!
Postman Rob and his colleague had noticed lots of Small Tortoiseshells around so they thought they’d count them as they went about their deliveries, and they reached an amazing total of nearly 600.
Small Tortoiseshell on Sedum spectabile. Photo: Lyn Pullen
It is great to see this species, which had seemed to be in lots of trouble, apparently bouncing back. It is likely that it has been helped by the (eventual) good weather this year, but it may also be that it has been being hit by a parasite which has been less present recently.
The usual time for Monarch butterflies to reach Dorset is when they get caught up on strong high-level wind currents as they fly down the eastern coast of USA on their way to hibernate in the Mexican highlands.
This would normally be in very late August to October and was probably the origin of the one seen by many observers in September 2012 on Portland.
Monarch seen in 2012. Photo: Bob Steedman
This year we have already had several sightings to the east of the County. The first was seen in a garden on the Hants side of the border on the 8th and 9th July near New Milton.
Another, perhaps the same insect, was reported on the Dorset side near Highcliffe on July 13th. Later in the month, on 26th July, there was another sighting in a garden at Burton Bradstock: well to the west of Dorset.
Later still, on 1st August, two more Monarchs were reported near the Tropical Gardens at Abbotsbury.
Could these have been early migrants across the Atlantic? Or perhaps a new sort of migrant from colonies now breeding in Spain & Portugal – the 2nd sighting at Abbotsbury did fly in over the cliff from the south.
More likely these may have been releases from breeding houses and this is almost certainly the case with the Highcliffe sighting.
As well as private breeders there are many engaged in breeding from Butterfly Weddings & Funerals & escapes do occur.
The West Dorset sightings are more uncertain, and we would welcome information from anyone who knows of breeding schemes in West Dorset from which they could have been released or escaped.
6th July – Peter Poore reports – and photographs – a Swallowtail laying eggs on his carrots: you can see the photos on our Gallery page.
12 July – Swallowtail sighted in a Bournemouth garden, on Choisya Aztec Pearl shrub.
23 July – Swallowtail caterpillars reported on fennel in a garden, in Furzehill near Wimborne. Photo below.
Swallowtail caterpillars. Photo: Cheryl Patrick
A few days later the caterpillars had disappeared; our Records Officer, Bill Shreeves, says:
The caterpillars may have progressed into the chrysalis stage – they look fairly mature from the photo. Predation is another possibility: despite having chemicals in their bodies which are distasteful, they can be predated by birds, especially in areas where the species is not well known to local birds. Caterpillars feed for about a month before pupating so it is just possible that these may have offspring of the butterflies seen in the Pamphill area in late May. The continental sub species feeds on a whole range of umbellifers, fennel & wild Carrot. Back in the 1940s, when there was thought to have been a Dorset breeding colony for 2-3 years, caterpillars were found on Wild Carrot. The native Swallowtail of course uses almost exclusively Milk Parsley but I doubt whether any of the recent sightings have anything to do with this.
One amazing piece of news from the folk who did the butterfly monitoring walk on Fontmell Down (North Dorset) in the first week of July, was that they saw 112 Dark Green Fritillaries!
There were actually few parts of the walk without these magnificent freshly-emerged Fritillaries being spotted.
To put this in context, the highest previous counts for these butterflies for all 26 walks in the whole year were 80 in 1986, and 109 in 2012.
Dark Green Fritillary. Photo: Peter Lister
Dorset Branch Records Officer, Bill Shreeves said:
How this has happened is beyond me at present. Obviously they must have had a good platform from last year to build on, but the 2012 – early 2013 weather was hardly very helpful to the overwintering caterpillars! Count numbers have also been quite high for the adjoining walk at Clubmens Down.
Only one Dark Green has so far been reported to this website, so we’d be very interested in hearing of any seen away from the transect (butterfly monitoring) walks – enter them on our sightings form, or e-mail email@example.com.