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.

Perhaps it wasn’t a Wall after all.

I was walking the dogs along a sheltered track a couple of days ago – mostly in shade, with pools of sunlight here and there – when I came across a succession of Speckled Woods, darting about and chasing each other at the edges of their territories. I was struck by how orangey their colouring was and how crisp and clear the markings were generally – compared, that is, to the individuals I’d seen and photographed last September. And I hadn’t previously noticed the wavy white fringe to their wings which gives them a neater, more defined appearance.

Speckled Wood, mid April
Speckled Wood, early September

It made me wonder if the butterfly I’d glimpsed briefly when it came to rest in the garden about a week ago, and which I’d thought was a Wall Brown at the time (no camera to hand for a more definite ID) was actually an orangey and freshly emerged Speckled Wood. The timing suggests it probably was: Speckled Woods can appear as early as late March, whereas the Wall Brown doesn’t normally emerge before May.

Wall, Mid August

I’d thought it was a Speckled Wood initially, as it flew past, and it was only when it landed at the back of a flower bed and I caught a glimpse of how orange it was that I thought it was a Wall. Their marking are superficially similar, and the sunlight can of course make everything appear more orange at times. And freshly emerged butterflies are always more vivid. So I’m pretty convinced now it was a Speckled Wood.

I won’t be adding the Wall to my geek list of species we’ve seen in the garden just yet.