Hello everyone, 

This week we are focusing on another popular garden creature, butterflies!

Arguably one of the most beautiful visitors to our gardens, butterflies can frequently be seen during spring and summer close to home. So, let’s take some time to learn a bit more about them. We are all aware of the infamous change butterflies undergo, completely altering their bodily form in a process called metamorphosis. Within their short lifetime, each one endures four different life stages (see diagram below). They begin as an egg, hatch into a caterpillar, pupate into a chrysalis and then emerge as an adult. Adult female butterflies lay their eggs on plants that then become the food for the hatching caterpillars. Depending on the species, they can be laid in spring, summer or fall, and all species will attempt to lay numerous eggs so that the chance of some surviving is increased. Next comes the feeding frenzy. As a caterpillar in the larva stage, its job is to eat plenty of food. During this time, the caterpillar may shed its skin 4 – 5 times while storing all the energy from the food for the next phase. It does this while potentially growing 100 times its size, incredible!  Next is the crucial transition stage where they turn into a pupa, also known as a chrysalis. How long they last will vary depending on the species, some only a few weeks to a month and longer. What also varies is the location of pupas, some situate themselves under leaves, branches or underground. Incredible things are happening during this stage, cells are working overtime to transform the caterpillar into its beautiful adult form. Butterflies in adult form then have the important task of reproducing to initiate this cycle all over again.

There is a good chance you will see this happening within your garden in the form of a courtship flight, where they are attached together for a moment. Common garden butterfly species that you are likely to see now and over the next few months includes the peacock, red admiral, painted lady, small tortoiseshell, small white, large white, green-veined white, orange-tip, meadow brown, small copper, holly blue and common blue. A particular favourite of mine is the orange-tipped butterfly (see image below). Common and widespread, this beautiful butterfly can be seen in hedgerows and gardens. Males appear with their conspicuous orange tipped wings, while the females present black tips, both species have green mottled underwings. Even though their conservation status is non-threatened, and they remain a low priority, it is still important to record them if spotted.

Much like the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, the Butterfly Conservation charity hold an annual Garden Butterfly Survey. The survey allows you to record and report butterflies that visit your garden over the course of the year. It very easy to do. Create yourself a free account, keep a record of your sightings and submit them to the website, easy peasy. The more we learn about how butterflies are faring, the better the butterfly conservation organisation can target their conservation effort towards struggling species. Want to help? Copy this link and it will take you to where you need to be to get started: http://www.gardenbutterflysurvey.org/. On their website you can also see the results from previous surveys and familiarise yourself with the most commonly and least commonly reported butterflies.

Want to know other ways of how to help butterflies? The first most popular thing you can do to help butterflies is grow flowers that they like. Its an easy and simple task, all you need is a trowel, butterfly friendly flowers and shrubs and a watering can. There a number of spring and summer plants that butterflies enjoy, including bugle, erysimum, goat willow, lady’s-mock, coneflower, English lavender, hemp agrimony, marjoram and verbena bonariensis. It may be difficult to do this until the lockdown restrictions are lifted, however there are both spring and summer varieties that you can plant. Depending on how the situation unfolds, keep a look out for garden centres adapting to selling their produce via deliveries. Head over to this link to find more details about planting flowers for butterflies: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden-activities/growflowersforbutterflies/

Come Autumn, you can create butterfly banquets made up of ripe bananas. As the banana ferments in the sunshine, red admiral, painted lady and comma butterflies should find it, and often stay for hours. The energy they get from the banana helps them stay fit through the Autumn.

In the meantime, lets enjoy these beautiful creatures as they emerge, and as the weather improves.

Thanks for reading.