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What To Look Out For - May 2017

  • Wed 26th Apr, 2017

The colours of spring are everywhere in this wonderful month of May. This month Yorkshire Coast Nature’s Richard Baines focuses on four of our most contrastingly coloured butterflies to look out for on a country walk.

Common Blue has two broods one in late May/June and one later in the summer from August onwards. The spring brood is often less numerous. Despite this, butterflies flying in May often have a greater impact as the vivid blue of the males are a treat to the eye after the grey days of winter. Female Common Blues are brown on the upper wings but often have a flush of blue on the inner wing close to the abdomen. Look out for these butterflies in unimproved meadows or roadside verges anywhere in North and East Yorkshire especially where one of their favourite caterpillar food plants Birds-foot Trefoil grows. 

Male and Female Common Blue © Richard Baines Male and Female Common Blue © Richard Baines

Many species of blue butterfly have an association with ants. The caterpillars secrete a chemical which attracts the ants which then carry the larvae to their nest.  This amazing behaviour allows the species to benefit from the protection the ants bring from predators.

Male Orange Tip © Richard Baines Male Orange Tip © Richard Baines

From bright blue to Jaffa orange! The male Orange Tip butterfly is often seen in damp grasslands or wet-woodland edges where its caterpillar food plants Lady’s Smock or Garlic Mustard grows. A great site for these spectacular insects is Ashberry Pasture, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) reserve near Helmsley. May is just about the only month they are on the wing, further south they may have a small second brood in late summer. The female does not have the bright orange wing tips but does have the same underwing patter as the male. The caterpillars of Orange Tips feed on seed pods from the flowers but can eat other things even each other!

Female Orange Tip © Richard Baines Female Orange Tip © Richard Baines

Green Hairstreak is found in very different habitats to the previous species. The caterpillar food plant, Bilberry grows on acid heaths often in association with Heather. They are widespread in the North York Moors NP where these plants are very common. In East Yorkshire sites such as Allerthorpe Common and Skipwith Common YWT nature reserves are good places. Warm sheltered habitats or open woodland glades with sun drenched hollows are favoured by this beautiful butterfly.

Green Hairstreak © Dan Lombard Green Hairstreak © Dan Lombard

The bright green can be surprisingly difficult to spot as they nestle amongst low vegetation beneath our feet, their flight is fast and jerky, making them difficult to follow but when they do land they rest with their wings closed showing off their vivid colour.

From three unmistakable species to one very well camouflaged butterfly, the well named Dingy Skipper. The small adults are similar in size to hairstreaks but when they rest they often spread their wings to soak up the energy of the sun. They can be found in grassland, often sparse with lots of bare earth or stones where they can benefit from the dull colours protecting them from predation. The caterpillars feed on various species of vetch, sharing the same food plants with the Common Blue. The Dingy Skippers wide distribution means it can be seen almost anywhere in the UK and it is the only species of Skipper to be found in Ireland.

Richard Baines YCN