29 Aug 2014

Violets, a Butterfly and Moths

Colin Miles

Aug 26th.  During the previous two weeks the group has been busy clearing vegetation in Trawscoed woods next to the visitors car park, creating a bit more light as well as getting rid of a lot of the bramble and other weeds.  This week was the time for planting – Dog Violets.  There are already quite a few there so why add more?  Well  because of a certain Butterfly which had been spotted – the Silver Washed Fritillary of which the primary larval foodplant is Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana).

This butterfly is our largest fritillary and gets its name from the beautiful streaks of silver found on the underside of the wings. The bright orange male is quite distinctive as it flies powerfully along woodland rides, pausing only briefly to feed or investigate anything with an orange hue that could be a potential mate. The male has four distinctive black veins on its forewings that contain special “androconial” scales that are used in courtship. These veins are known as “sex brands”. The female is paler than the male, has rounder wings and more-prominent spots.

The adults spend much of their time in the woodland canopy where they feed on aphid honeydew. However, they often descend to nectar on Bramble blossom and Thistle flowers – two of their favourite nectar sources. The courtship flight of this butterfly is one of the most spectacular of all the British species. The female flies in a straight line while the male continuously loops under, in front and then over the top of the female. With the courtship flight over, the pair lands on a convenient platform where the male showers the female in scent scales. The male then draws the female’s antennae over the sex brand and mating subsequently takes place.

A truly spectacular Butterfly and although out patch may not look much at the moment, but come Spring there could be a lovely show of these flowers with these Butterflies to follow.

Meanwhile, away from the woods and in the shade of the Stable Block, Marigold, Susan, Jan and myself were busy identifying Moths. Although the weather the previous night had been rather wet and the egg-boxes were extremely soggy, it had been mild so there were lots of Moths to look at and identify, a task which took all morning. As well as the larger Macro moths shown below in the slide-show, there were many small, Micro moths who are really difficult to identify. And they kept escaping! Although most of the Moths are common enough, 22 species at the last count, at least one of them, the Oblique Carpet, is more local and we found several specimens.

If any volunteer or member is interested in joining us please send an email to Jane Down– you DON’T have to be an expert in anything, just interested. If you click on the Wildlife Walks heading on the left-hand side under News you will see a list of the last 10 Wildlife Survey blogs. If you find an injured bird, hedgehog or other wild animal and want help and advice then phone the Gower Bird hospital. on 01792 371630.