Tag Archives: spring

View of a black cluster of butterfly larvae amongst dead oak leaves.

Marsh Fritillary Larvae. Photo: Nigel Spring

2019 was a bumper year for Marsh Fritillaries on our reserve at Alners Gorse with a record number of sightings of the adults and hugely increased numbers of larval webs counted in the Autumn.

The clusters of up to 200 larvae spend the winter months in the leaf litter and emerge on their wispy webs in February and early March to bask in the weak winter sunshine. There has been a notable shortage of sunshine recently but these determined clusters photographed by Nigel Spring on 23/02/2020 were doing their best to bask amongst the oak leaves and their larval food plant, Devil’s-bit Scabious.

Astonishing number of March Butterflies

We’ve just done the maths and are astonished at how many butterflies have been reported to us in March:

  • Number of records received = 244 (a record is a report of butterflies at one time in one place)
  • Number of butterflies = 712

This compares to 2013 figures of 17 records containing 20 butterflies.

The 712 butterflies were:

  • Brimstone 233
  • Comma 40
  • Holly Blue 2
  • Painted Lady 1
  • Peacock 96
  • Red Admiral 8
  • Small Copper 1
  • Small Tortoiseshells 309
  • Small White 12
  • Speckled Wood 10

Remember – if you want to keep up with which species are out, we have a First Sightings page.

Please keep the records coming in: we would like to report a huge number in April as well.

Small Tortoiseshell egg laying in mid March

It seems reports that Small Tortoiseshells were exhibiting courtship behaviour in late February and early March were correct: Andrew Cooper has now photographed one laying eggs on 15 March at Pamphill.

Small Tortoiseshell laying eggs

Small Tortoiseshell laying eggs. Photo: Andrew Cooper

Small Tortoiseshell eggs on the underside of a nettle leaf

Small Tortoiseshell eggs on the underside of a nettle leaf. Photo: Andrew Cooper

This is a month earlier than we would normally expect, which is presumably a reflection of the mild winter and the good weather we are having now. Let’s hope this means we are going to see lots of this butterfly later in the year!

Small Tortoiseshells courting in February?

We have had two reports of pairs of Small Tortoiseshells showing what may be mating behaviour amazingly early in the year.

Mike Ridge described two as “pairing” on 24 February in Lyme Regis, while Mark Spencer reported he saw:

2 Small Tortoiseshells today [28 Feb] courting each other high up in the sun at 12.15 p.m. in a garden half way up Glenferness Avenue in Bournemouth

Lyn Pullen also saw two showing interest in each other on 9 March.


Tortoiseshells. Photo: Lyn Pullen

Dorset Branch Records Officer, Bill Shreeves said:

Small Tortoiseshells don’t usually mate until late in the afternoon. Once the male has found a possible mate he has to follow her all day through thick and thin in order to mate, but it may be if it is cold the process can be speeded up. Small Tortoiseshells flying high might be males jousting with each other rather than courtship.

Whatever they were doing, let’s hope we see lots of them this year!