To Camouflage or not to Camouflage

If the whole world was made up of faded Lemon Verbena plants, then Cabbage White butterflies would be perfectly camouflaged. I’m guessing, though, that success, when you’re an adult butterfly, has more to do with attracting mates than avoiding predation. Of course when you’re a caterpillar and uninterested in members of the opposite sex, your top priority, while you’re concentrating on eating your cabbages, is to avoid being eaten by birds and wasps – or being removed by eagle-eyed gardeners for that matter – so green would be the successful colour for you at that more stationary stage of your life cycle. And so it is for the Small White caterpillar.

The above picture was taken in our garden with the shade of long grass along a fence in the background, hence the dramatic lighting. More dramatic lighting in the next shot of a Holy Blue I spotted yesterday in the dappled light from overhanging trees up on the Plain.

And below, the same butterfly in direct sunlight a foot or two away. 

A hundred or two yards earlier on the dog walk I’d seen Gatekeepers and a Wall Brown (or two – difficult to differentiate between them when they’re in flight) chasing each other on the edge of the same escarpment wood. It looked like a bank of Willowherb, covered in floss, was the real estate they were fighting over. I’m guessing the Wall was winning as he tended to perch near or on the Willowherb…

Wall Brown with its exotic underwing markings

… while the Gatekeepers seemed to be retreating to the branches of some kind of wild plumb or damson tree overhead, their fruits beginning to ripen.

Also seen on the walk were Chalkhill Blues – first of the year for me – at the SSSI where I often drop in on dog walks to see what’s happening.

The Harebells were out, as were the Clustered Bellflowers, enjoying the sun of the south facing chalk escarpment.

Harebells in the sun
Clustered Bellflowers

On my way there, over open grassland, I thought I saw a clouded Yellow zooming along in the distance, though it could possibly have been a Brimstone – there are one or two of them on the wing at the moment. But I knew there were Clouded Yellows about as well as I’d seen a couple chasing each other on the plain about a fifteen minute drive away on Sunday. I managed to photograph one of them after a mad, zig-zagging chase over grassland. A first for me.

Eyes bright, almost radio-active green. A bit spooky.

Will try next time to get a shot without grass in the way, but these migrants from Southern Europe and North Africa do not like sitting still – or giving you many chances with a camera.

Am looking forward to the emergence of the Common Blues, a favourite for me – and much more laid back when it comes to having their photos taken. Should be with us in the next week or two.

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6 Comments

  1. I always think the pink edge to the Clouded Yellow is a nice extra touch to a beautiful butterfly. I’ve not seen many of them recently, but then I’ve not been out walking much. We have loads of Marbled Whites here at the moment (almost every other one).

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    1. Am guessing that the further you go up the mountain the later the timing with various species and plants. For instance our Marbled Whites – very much in the foothills here in comparison to your Swiss terrain – are well on their way out now. And I noticed earlier in the year your Burnt Tip Orchids were out a good month or more after ours. Or maybe related to latitude? Interesting anyway to see some of the species we know so well here amongst all the other exotic ones you have there.

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      1. Yes, quite a few things are much later here – possibly waiting for the snow to disappear and it to warm up a bit. Certainly I notice the difference when I drive down to the Rhone valley in March or April, where things are much more advanced. It’s the variety of wild flowers though which attracts so many butterflies. The farmers have just about finished cutting the grass/fields around our village now, so the butterflies have much less to feed on. So the flowers on our balcony are becoming more popular – with a Meadow Brown (and a Marbled White or two of course) yesterday.

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      2. Always sad when the farmers make their hay and the butterflies are left looking a bit bereft. But then again the farmers, particularly in your part of the world, have traditionally been doing something similar for centuries, as we discussed before, and the butterflies probably adapted to the man-made cycle of things along the way, and might well be in trouble if things changed. But anyway, nice that they come into your garden instead!

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