Every so often, a wildlife moment happens in the garden that has me rubbing my eyes with disbelief.
So it was this Monday when I saw a tiny silvery butterfly flitting low over the tapestry of wildflowers in my ‘meadow’. (I should explain that the ‘meadow’, should you be imagining something grand, was sown in autumn 2017 and spring 2018 on what was originally a muddy chicken pen!). I instantly thought it must be a Brown Argus, which colonised the meadow last summer. But when it settled on a flowerhead of Kidney Vetch, it revealed that the underside of its wings were ever so lightly dotted with the smallest black dots - that's not what a Brown Argus looks like!
Then, when it opened its wings, it showed none of the dotted golden-brown highlights around the outside of its wings of Brown Argus, confirming that it was a Small Blue.
Barely larger than a five pence piece, this is a scarce butterfly of downland quarries and sheltered glades, living in small colonies and flying mainly in May and June.
It had already offered me another clue to its identification, for the sole foodplant of the Small Blue caterpillar is Kidney Vetch. No other plant will do.
My nearest colony is, as the Small Blue flies, two miles or so away, so it is astonishing to imagine how this individual ‘decided’ to leave the security of its home patch and go on a quest for a new home. It must have careered and darted this way and that, over houses and roads and all manner of wholly unsuitable places.
Then, through a mix of chance and sheer diligence, it would have spotted my mini-meadow, and then within all the Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Ox-eye Daisy managed to pick out the one plant it requires and desires. What determination! What a triumph! What a needle in a haystack! I’m in the middle of suburbia, and I bet there is no other Kidney Vetch in any of the other hundreds of gardens around me.
However, my already considerable surprise ramped up several notches when I realised that my butterfly was egg-laying. It was a female; it was the bearer of the next generation.
Deliberately turning in circles on a flowerhead like a dog in its bed, she tested it out for the right location, before curling her abdomen around to lay a single egg. She would then flit lightly to the next flowerhead to begin again.
Whether the eggs hatch and make it to adulthood, whether this is the start of a new colony, well, time will tell. But I'll definitely be growing more Kidney Vetch next year to increase my chances.
Nevertheless, as a tale it helps reinforce the fact that exciting wildlife is out there, on the move, looking for a home. If, armed with a little bit of knowledge and driven by a desire to help, you offer the right conditions, then you open up amazing options and possibilities for saving nature.
Hi Jen. In my view, every gain - common or otherwise - is helping the planet head in the right direction , so celebrate every victory you have :)
Hi Adrian, that's fantastic! I can imagine how excited you were. I'm currently trying to establish a wildlife friendly garden in a new build garden and get very excited about the more common species that appear! I can dream that one day perhaps rarer ones might also decide to visit and even stay. Look forward to hearing if you get small blue caterpillars and more butterflies
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