All a flutter for butterflies

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly - Credit: Archant

Andrew Fallan shares his expertise in Essex wildlife with us, revealing top locations to find some special species as well as the unusual animals you can discover in your own backgarden.

Comma Butterfly

Comma Butterfly - Credit: Archant

Among the characteristic sights and sounds of summer — from azure skies and swooping swallows to buzzing bees and the whiff of wild flowers — things just wouldn’t be the same without one of our most exquisite creatures, the butterfly. As graceful as ballet dancers and as glorious as rainbows, butterflies bring a soothing touch of elegance and a warm splash of colour into our often dull, workaday lives, and after a gloomy winter there are few finer sights than to witness a flurry of these magical insects fluttering between the fragrant blooms. Even a lone butterfly, sunning itself with wings outstretched, is a vision of perfection, its hues so intricate as to have been lovingly added by the painstaking brushstrokes of a highly accomplished artist.

In order to get to grips with these flamboyant beauties, you don’t have to be some super-naturalist like TV presenter Chris Packham, whose boundless passion and enthusiasm is matched only by his almost encyclopedic knowledge of all things wild. Speaking as somebody who knows next to nothing about butterflies, it can be tempting to overlook, or even ignore altogether, any that we do encounter, assuming that such pursuits are ‘best left to the experts’. I have found, however, that being able to identify just a few of the more common species — which, incidentally, are also quite stunning — is not only fairly easy, but can also aid an appreciation and enjoyment of these creatures no end.

Two of the most easily recognised are the peacock and red admiral. The peacock is almost impossibly colourful, with its gorgeous blood-orange wings and striking electric-blue ‘eyes’, the latter feature —presumably an evolved defence against predators — being from where this species earned its name. Equally distinctive and just as striking are the orange-red, inky black and pearly white markings of the red admiral. Incredibly, despite looking as delicate as confetti, this species migrates to the UK every year from continental Europe, with the UK population being almost entirely dependent upon this annual influx.

Another migratory species, originating in North Africa, is the painted lady, which, with its intricately dappled orange, black and white patterning,

is incredibly handsome and also rather elegant. No less attractive is the small tortoiseshell, its vibrant tones — orange and black with touches of white — finished off perfectly with a gorgeous metallic-blue edging. And last, but by no means least, is the comma, so named after the small white mark on its underwing. Despite being quite resplendent — a gorgeous rust-colour emblazoned with black spots — what really stands out about this species is the beautifully ragged yet wonderfully contoured outline of its wings, which when closed bear an ingenious resemblance to a dead leaf, as if having been perfectly crafted by the caring hand of a master sculptor.

So, next time you’re strolling amid the Essex countryside, or even tending the flowers in your garden, keep a look out for all of these butterflies and more. Without them our summers just wouldn’t be the same.

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About Andrew

Andrew Fallan is the author of Winging it - Birding for low-flyers published by Brambleby Books, and is currently living in Southend.